Sunsets to Remember
© Darrell Young

The sky is on fire!

At least it looks ablaze with blue, pink, yellow, and red as the sun sinks below the horizon. A feeling of awe washes over you as the sweeping beauty of an intense sunset excites your emotions.

"Where's my camera?" you think, as the bright colors deepen to orange, to gray, and then to night. "Another incredible sunset and I didn't get any pictures!"

As photographers, we appreciate the beauty of this earth, and try to capture it with our cameras for later reflection.

Little slices of time and memories set in pictures. Few things can move a person like a sunset, in real life, or in great photographs. But, to capture one of these fleeting sky paintings, one must be prepared. How can I make sunset photographs that will satisfy myself, and impress others?

Actually, it's not very difficult to do. If you have a decent camera, and learn a few techniques, you can actually own a sunset. Let's spend a few minutes discussing the methods used to accurately photograph a sunset, and then you can start your collection.

Suggestion number 1: Always have your camera with you!

Invariably, the most intense sunsets happen just as you walk out of the grocery store with a big bag of groceries, or as you're driving home from work.

Since a sunset's most beautiful display only lasts from five to ten minutes, you have little time. If you don't have your camera within reach when you see one, it may be too late.

So, get a small camera bag and sling it over your shoulder or put your camera in your purse or briefcase.

People may think you're a little strange, since you always have a camera with you. But, they're the ones missing all the great sunsets, muttering, I wish I had my camera!


Suggestion number 2: Wait for the sun to drop below the horizon.

The beautiful interplay of colors is caused by light rays reflecting from clouds on the horizon. When the sun is still in the sky it can overpower the delicate colors, and your camera's light meter, with the yellowish light of the sun. Usually the most intense colors will happen within a few minutes of the sun's disappearance below the horizon. It's never a good idea to look directly into the sun anyway, since it could damage your camera, and more importantly your eye. Be careful!

That's not to say that you can never include the sun's disc in your pictures, but it takes special sky conditions to do so. If you can comfortably look at the sun as it shines through a misty cloudy sky, then your camera may be able to photograph it accurately.

Most of my sunset shots are taken after the sun has set. It's much easier to get good results without the bright sun showing in the picture. It's a good idea to take more than one picture, so shoot fast. To get the best exposure, it may be necessary to take 10 or 15 shots, if you have time.

Then you'll be rewarded with several different pictures reflecting what you remember. Images of the sky after the sun has set are usually very colorful, restful, and satisfying.

Suggestion number 3: Frame the sunset with an interesting foreground object.

If you take your picture with anything showing in the foreground, it will be silhouetted. The brightness of the sky will cause your camera's meter to completely underexpose the foreground, making it featureless.

Including an object like a tree on the edges of the picture can add some dimensionality and depth that makes the sunset seem more real in an image.

Try to move away from wires, telephone poles, and towers, since their silhouettes may not be as pleasing.

Any type of foreground foliage can make a nice dark contrast to the bright sky. It looks best to include a bit of the horizon at least, so that the perspective looks natural. You'll be amazed at the lovely composition, and so will your friends!


Suggestion number 4: Use a zoom lens.

Sunsets come in all sizes and shapes. That may seem like a strange statement, but, look carefully at the next few nice sunsets you see. Some will have very intense color in a limited spot, while others might cover half of the sky. A zoom lens, such as comes on most cameras these days, will allow you to photograph the sunset in different ways.

You can usually get several good images from a single sunset if you use your zoom lens carefully. Why settle for just one picture? You may want to zoom to a wide angle setting to get an overview of the whole sunset, and then zoom to a longer lens setting to capture only small sections of the sky.

By using the flexibility of a zoom lens, you'll not limit yourself to just one nice composition. If you work quickly, you can take horizontal and vertical shots, include foreground silhouettes, or even isolate a colorful abstract pattern of cloud shapes within the sunset. I've been known to shoot as many as 30 shots of a sunset in only a few minutes. Many of them turn out to be very nice images. Use your zoom!

So, be prepared by having your camera with you, let the sun drop below the horizon or be blocked by clouds, use interesting foreground silhouettes, and vary your composition with a zoom lens.

Using these methods will help you create outstandingly beautiful sunset images that everyone will enjoy for many years afterward.

Keep on capturing time...

Copyright © 2005 by Darrell Young, All Rights Reserved. Member ASMP