Ask any landscape photographer when their favorite time to shoot is, and they’ll most likely say Golden Hour.
Golden Hour light is unparalleled in that it’s soft yet vibrant, warm yet even.
And man, does it do wonders for showing off the features of a landscape!
But taking a high-quality landscape photo during Golden Hour requires more than just pointing the camera toward the sunset and pressing the shutter.
I’ve put together a collection of nine spectacular sunset shots to inspire your work, and I’ve included a few tips and tricks along with them.
Let’s see just what you need to do to improve your Golden Hour photos in order to create masterpieces like the photos below.
When shooting a sunset, many photographers will make the sky the focal point of the image. And while that works in many instances due to the gorgeous coloring of the sky, sometimes the image works better if the sunset takes a backseat to another element. In this shot, Kevin McNeal uses the beautiful waterfall as a focal point, which plays perfectly into the photo. The bright white of the water really pops while the visual weight of the waterfall balances out the layering of the cliffs that dominate the right side of the image.
Using water in the foreground of a sunset shot is a great way to improve the exposure. By reflecting the brightness of the sky in the water, the photographer, Steve Kossack, was able to open up the foreground and help prevent it from becoming a dark, shadowy weight that brings the photo down. Better still, the water reflects the gorgeous colors of the sunset, adding additional pop to an already gorgeous image.
In this image, Rick Sandford highlights the value of having a perfectly level horizon. Though it’s easy to be taken in by the beauty of the scene, it’s imperative that when you’re photographing a sunset with a clearly defined landscape like this one that you pay close attention to the framing of the shot. If the horizon is off just a little, it will be plainly visible and ruin an otherwise breathtaking photo.
In this gorgeous Golden Hour photo, Loscar Numael capture golden tones as the sun illuminates the distant mountains. When photographing sunsets, you can enhance these golden tones by switching your white balance to the “shade” setting. Because the shade setting is intended to warm up bluish tones, it adds red and orange tones to the shot. That means that when it’s used on golden tones, it makes those red and orange tones that much more prevalent.
When photographing a sunset, don’t be afraid to extend the length of the exposure to show the movement of the clouds. As we can see in this shot by Jason Odell, the clouds take on a dreamy quality with the blurriness that’s induced by the long shutter speed. Paired with the explosion of color from the setting sun, the movement of the clouds gives this image a greater level of depth and interest.
Even though Golden Hour is a prime time to show off the sky, again, we see the value of incorporating foreground interest into the shot. In this case, Joe Rossbach has framed the shot perfectly with the rocks in the foreground serving as an anchor for the photo. The rocks also give our eye something to follow deeper into the scene, giving it a greater sense of dimension. The cool tones of the rocks act as a nice balancing point to the bright, warm colors of the sunset as well.
In another beautiful example of a long exposure, Edwin Martinez pairs the harsh lines and shapes of the rocks in the foreground with the soft, smooth surface of the water. In the background, the fog acts like a giant diffuser, helping to spread out the rays of the setting sun in a way that makes the fog glow. In looking at the differences in the colors between the foreground and background, we also see how you can use color to help achieve improved visual balance from front to back.
Gary Hart demonstrates with his photo above how not all sunset photos have to be taken after the sun actually sets. When photographing a landscape before the sun has hit the horizon, it’s a good idea to work in aperture priority mode so you can make quick changes to the exposure settings as they rapidly change with the movement of the sun. Then, once the sun dips below the horizon, switch to manual mode so you have greater creative control over your camera’s settings.
Not all sunset photos have to include the sun or even need to be taken in the direction of the sunset. In this image by Steve Kossack, the setting sun bathes the rock formations in an orange glow, giving us a better sense of the texture of the rocks and the size and scale of the landscape. The lesson here is the value in turning around. Often, as spectacular as the setting sun might be, there very well could be an equally beautiful view behind you!
These photos show what’s possible when you put in the time and effort to find an interesting vantage point, incorporate foreground interest, use the appropriate camera settings, and so forth.
Another crucial aspect of creating images like those seen above is to use high-quality filters that boost colors, help you blur movement, and control the dynamic range of the scene at sunset.
Singh-Ray makes some of the best filters around, including polarizers, solid neutral density filters, and graduated neutral density filters. They even have reverse neutral density filters that are perfect for sunrise and sunset shooting because they are darkest in the center of the filter with clear glass on the bottom and graduated from dark to light above the horizon line.
That’s beneficial because at sunset, the brightest part of the sky is along the horizon. By filtering out some of that light, the reverse neutral density filter helps you control the dynamic range of the shot by lightening the foreground and gradually controlling the brightness of the sky.
The benefit to you is that you get all those effects with a single filter. No more long post-processing sessions!
I shoot with Singh-Ray filters because I feel they are the best on the market. If you want to take your photos to the next level, I suggest you check them out.