Use spot metering to nail down your exposure levels. Take your reading from a cloudless area of sky to the left or right of the setting sun, then bracket your exposures so you’ve got some variation to work with.
Take shots at differing perspectives. Stand up, kneel down, even lay down to find the best vantage point to capture the reflection at its best.
Include a pier, wharf, or jetty, if possible. These elements provide strong foreground interest, lead the eye deeper into the scene, and offer some context regarding the scale of the scene.
If it’s safe to do so, walk into the water to bring the reflection that much closer to your lens.
Try different focal lengths. A wide-angle lens allows you to include more of the landscape and emphasizes the importance of the foreground. A telephoto lens makes the sun appear disproportionately large, which makes for a visually interesting photo as well.
We all know that Golden Hour is one of the best times of day to shoot a landscape. The soft, warm light is of a pleasing tone and temperature, and all those harsh shadows that are associated with brighter light go away.
The problem, of course, is that Golden Hour usually means that the sky is ablaze with light and color, while the landscape is not. In fact, you might find that the foreground of your image is nothing but a dark, featureless blob, a landscape with too little light to illuminate it.
Photographers usually get around this issue by bracketing their exposures and stacking them in post-processing. And though there’s nothing wrong with that technique, there’s another way that you can get your exposure right in-camera:
Just use water!
Granted, you won’t always be in a landscape that has a body of water handy, but if you are, including that water as your foreground element will instantly help you get a better exposure. This trick is especially useful at sunrise or sunset when the sky is brilliant with color, and it can be reflected on the surface of the water. If clouds are present, that’s even better!
Here’s a few tips for maximizing the usefulness of water:
When it comes time to take the photo, although a tripod is usually recommended, don’t tie yourself down to one. You can adjust your exposure settings such that you can hand hold your camera and still get a good shot. Freeing yourself from your tripod might just mean that you find the angle or perspective that really makes the image pop and one that might be difficult or impossible to get with your camera mounted on a tripod. Another, “break the rules” suggestion is to use the shady or cloudy white balance preset on your camera. Both will warm up the image and emphasize the golden tones of the light, making your image more impactful.
Remember as well that when it comes to photographing the rising or setting sun that you need to give yourself ample time to get set up, and in this case, find an appropriate body of water to use as the foreground of your shot. It will take some experimentation to be sure, but once you get the hang of it, you can create stunning sunset photos with incredible reflections while getting a well-exposed image in-camera all at the same time.