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  • Writer's pictureJanice Gill

Sunrise & Sunset Photography (Tips & Tricks for Beginners)

Purple, yellow and orange fiery sky above silhouetted church tower.
St Mary's Church, Llanfair Caereinion - Photo by Janice Gill

I confess - I'm a major fan of Sunrise and Sunset.

I don't get why other photographers say never to photograph them.

What's not to like? An abstracted foreground with little detail creates a perfect foil for all that glorious colour.

I've got a second confession to make - my first attempts were hopeless. Weak washed-out colours created insipid photographs.

I got better.

It took some practice and lots of trial and error. While discovery may be part of the fun of this wonderful hobby, it's useful to learn from the mistakes of others first and make new discoveries all of your own.

So here are a few of my favourite tips to get you started.

Exposure Compensation

It was a total fluke that I got my first shots closer to how I'd seen the sunset. I'd been testing out the bracketing function on my new camera and hadn't changed them when I took a grab shot of a sunset. I looked at the results later and spotted that the heavily under-exposed shots were the best.

So my first tip is to use exposure compensation, dropping it down by 2 stops. Check your result to make sure it has the depth of colour you want.

Bracketing your shots will give you a number of differently exposed images and is worth doing.

Bamburgh Castle seen above the coastline against a colourful orange sunset.  The camera wanted to expose for a lighter shot - 2 stops of exposure compensation was used.
Bamburgh Castle Sunset - photo by Janice Gill.

Manual Focus

As light levels fall, your camera will struggle to focus. Set your focus to manual, and you can keep the focus where you want it to be. Usually, I'd focus a third of the way up the picture as this would give me most of the scene in acceptable focus. In the Bamburgh Castle Sunset image, however, I focused on the castle, as the foreground was dark and didn't need to be sharp.

Plan Ahead

Many a time, I've suddenly seen a sunset and felt compelled to shoot it. If you can grab a shot like that, all well and good, but often we're in completely the wrong place. My favourite places to shoot sunsets involve water. You get twice the colours and plenty of opportunity for lead-in lines. My nearest substantial water feature is over 20 miles away. By the time I got there, the sunset would be long gone.

Instead, I plan ahead and get to my destination 90 minutes before sunset. I increase my chances of a spectacular sunset by watching the weather. A couple of stormy days will add particles to the atmosphere, and as the weather breaks a little, your chances of colour are improved.

If I'm going to photograph an unfamiliar location, I'll scout out the positions I'll likely shoot from in advance.

Estuary with Heron overlooked by Mount Snowdon at Sunset.
Snowdonia Sunset from the Cob. Photo by Janice Gill

Golden and Blue Hours

You may wonder why I suggest arriving at your planned destination 90 minutes in advance, especially if I've suggested scouting out unfamiliar locations in advance. The reason is the hour before and the hour after sunset.

The hour before is known as the Golden Hour, as it features beautiful golden light and long shadows that rake the landscape. Some colours may start to appear in the sky, but more detail remains in the foreground, as in the shot of Snowdonia above. Ten minutes later and the heron was just a silhouette.

The hour after is the blue hour and is great for shots with bags of atmosphere. You may also get an afterglow where the sky colours more after the sunset.


Beginning photographers are best advised to follow the rules. You can break the rules later when you've got the basics down. Stick with the rule of thirds and keep the sun out of the centre.

Most importantly, keep your horizon straight. This is especially important if you include a reflection.

Watch for a balance of light and dark across the image. The dark foreground can sometimes be too heavy on one side and distract from your sky.

Lake Vyrnwy reflects the sunset but the sky is too bright.
Lake Vyrnwy Sunset. Photo by Janice Gill. This photo looks too light in the sky and you may see something like this when you check out the images on your computer. Don't throw it out, the reflection shows there is something here to be rescued. In post processing you can create the effect of a graduated filter and effectively reduce the exposure of the sky, bringing out the latent colour.

Over to you - Get Snap Happy

It's your turn now. Follow these simple tips to get started with sunsets.

If you enjoy it as much as I do, you can take a deeper dive here with a whole host of tips from the pros.

In the meantime, get the basics down and get colourful.

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1 comentário

Alice Gerard
Alice Gerard
05 de jul. de 2023

Thank you. This is very helpful. I am now exploring the manual settings of my camera!

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