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If you ask me, there's a misconception about capturing high-quality photos at sunset (and sunrise, for that matter)...
Is it a little more challenging than a normal landscape photo? Yes.
But does that mean that it's so hard that you should just give up on getting that magical shot of the sky on fire? No!
With this quick guide, I present a few tricks that will help you learn how to photograph sunsets the right way.
Let's get to it!
How to Photograph Sunsets: Plan Ahead
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I fully admit that I'm not a very good planner. It's just not as fun as actually being out with my camera taking photos.
However, planning is an essential component of getting a successful sunset photo (well, most successful photos, really).
Sure, there will be times when you're spontaneously in the right place at the right time, but those instances are few and far between.
Instead, give some thought to where you want to capture a sunset shot, and then plan out your shoot to maximize your results.
That means looking for spots to set up your camera to take full advantage of the colors in the sky.
Look for land features that you can highlight in the shot as well, like a mountain peak, that bring interesting silhouettes into the image.
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When planning a sunset shoot, consult things like SunCalc, which gives you the precise sunrise and sunset times at your specific location, as well as the position of the sun relative to your location.
Armed with that kind of information, you can plan ahead, know when you need to be at your desired spot, and frame up the ideal sunset photo.
I like to keep an eye on the weather when I head out for sunset shots, too.
A little cloud cover makes for a far more interesting sunset photo while fog or mist in the morning help make sunrise photos a little more interesting as well.
Tips for Taking Sunset Photos: Invest in a Reverse Grad Filter
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If you've never used a reverse graduated neutral density filter for your sunrise or sunset photography, you're missing out.
That's because these filters help manage the biggest problem of taking photos at this time of day - the wide dynamic range.
Naturally, at sunset, the area of the sky just above the horizon will be very bright. Meanwhile, the foreground will be dark and the background will be somewhere between the two.
In many cases, this dynamic range is too much for your camera to handle, so you end up with a shot that's well-exposed in one area and not well-exposed in the others.
A reverse ND grad solves that problem, though.
That's because reverse ND grads like the Formatt-Hitech 3-stop reverse grad shown above are darkest in the middle to correspond with the very bright sky just above the horizon, darkening them and bringing the dynamic range to manageable levels.
Then, moving upward, the filtering power diminishes gradually, that way the brightness of the rest of the sky can be managed as well.
The bottom part of the filter has little or no filtering power, so the already dark foreground doesn't become any darker.
The result of using a filter like this is unmistakable - you get a well-exposed image throughout right then and there, with no need to blend exposures in post-processing.
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Reverse ND grads come in a variety of sizes and strengths, and usually offer from 1-stop to 3-stops of filtering power.
By and large, they are hard edge filters as well, meaning that the transition from filtered to unfiltered areas is quite abrupt.
This type of filter is ideal for situations in which there is a definite horizon, like the image above taken looking out toward the ocean.
Sunset Photography Tips: Take Your Time and Look Around!
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One of the best things about photographing sunsets is if you wait a few minutes - or seconds, even - you can get a completely different looking shot.
Clouds move, colors change, and the sun's position changes as well, and all of those factors lead to a wide variety of looks and feels for your sunset or sunrise photos.
So, just like you need to plan ahead, you also need to plan to hang out for a while! Get to your designated spot early and stay there late to maximize your opportunities for taking photos.
Something else you can do to maximize your photo-taking ability is to look around.
Sure, the best show might be looking toward the sunset or sunrise, but you never know what kind of show is happening behind you if you don't turn around. It could end up being the best view!