Sunset photography can be tricky if you aren't prepared before heading out to your desired landscape location. This article covers my photography tips for sunset pictures, covering what you need to including the proper equipment, camera settings and tips for behind the lens.
Tip #1: Invest in the Right Equipment
My dad always said, "I am too poor to build cheap". This quote lies true with photography - aspiring photographers cannot afford to buy cheap equipment and be disappointed when it performs at a lower level, then go out and buy the right equipment. Instead, save your money and invest in the right equipment the first time. This includes investing in the following MUST HAVE items: quality camera body, proper landscape lens and a quality tripod. I have written several times on what camera's I recommend and what tripod I recommend. I still highly recommend investing in a Gitzo or Really Right Stuff tripod. These things are practically indestructible. I have traveled from Iceland, Europe, Canada and all over the United States with my Gitzo and Really Right Stuff equipment and they have never failed me.
Tip #2: Camera Settings
The first thing you need to set in your camera is to shoot in RAW format. I have made the mistake to shoot in JPEG in the field only to realize it later. Next, turn down your ISO to a level between 100 and 400. I don't want noise in my photos and I want the sharpest photo possible, keep your ISO at a lower setting. Finally, set your exposure delay mode to at least 2 seconds. This will minimize your camera shake and help stabilize your camera before your shot. Another quick tip is to utilize your camera's timer mode to replace a remote trigger, set it for as low as possible - 3 seconds will be plenty of time.
Tip #3: Bring Your Own Light
This tip is often not covered in photography forums, but with sunsets you may want to pack a little extra light for dark foregrounds. In the photo featured on this article, I used a very light amount of light on my entire foreground to keep it in focus. Don't be afraid to use a flashlight with a gel, a speedlight set on a very low setting or your own custom light. Just be careful to be out of white balance, you may need to practice using color gels.
Tip #4: Compose and Focus BEFORE the Color
This is a big tip and very important to your success...be sure to scout your location and compose your scene with an expectation of your desired outcome. Of course you may not always know if a sunrise will produce spectacular color, but you should always be prepared. If you are looking for a fantastic landscape sunset picture you need to be sure to visualize what you want beforehand. For this scene I composed my scene before the sunset, set my tripod - and focused on my foreground. I then set my camera to manual focus and leave it. When the light fades I won't be struggling to focus in low light while focusing on the color change. Be prepared and set your camera to be ready for your perfect color.
Tip #5: Edit with Color Balance in Mind
One of final pieces to a good sunset picture is to edit properly with your white balance in mind. I like to bring along a grey card to snap a neutral photo beforehand. This may not always be feasible for you - so while editing be sure to spend some time adjusting your white balance to your desired outcome. You don't want to overdo the saturation and white balance, but spend some time editing to get the perfect balance of color.