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How To Take Stunning Sunset Photos

Kymberly is a professional photographer with many years of experience. Macro, landscape, plant and animal photography are her favourites.

Sunset photography is very rewarding, before, during and after the sunset. Waiting to capture the right shot is restful, contemplative and peaceful.

You pay attention to the clouds, the shadows, the colours playing across the sky, sunbeams, birds or other flying objects, how everything around you is beautifully lit, and how the changing light makes each moment different.

It's easy to capture beautiful sunsets - all you really need is some patience!

You can scout areas during the day to find a great landscape to photograph, and return just before sunset/sunrise.

But sometimes, fabulous sunsets will sneak up and surprise you!

Sunset from Mt. Hakodate, Japan.

Sunset from Mt. Hakodate, Japan.

Learn to see sunsets in different ways and capture them in gorgeous photos, no matter what camera you use!

Hiding in shadows

Objects photographed against sunsets are deeply shadowed, suggesting at more. Although they are surrounded by stunning colours, the mind can still fill in the hidden details.

Silhouettes can be used to emphasise certain aspects - such as the jarring difference between the natural world and something like high voltage transmission lines, marching across the countryside.

Lights from buildings and cars may seem like jewels, floating in the blackness of the shadows.

Buildings are silhouetted and trees display their branching structure, especially those that lose their leaves before winter.

Silhouettes and shadows are best captured while looking towards the sun, from below or behind the object you want to keep in shadow.

Highlighted in gold

Sometimes the angle of the setting sun can interact with objects in unexpected and delightful ways.

A lantern may appear lit. A ship on the horizon may appear to hover on a cloud of silver.

Reflections from mirrors and light bent through glass or water can be purposefully used to lend an otherworldly light to objects being photographed.

Photos can be taken from the tops of buildings or mountains, with the setting sun behind you or to the side, to light the scene.

To capture snow on mountains, photos should be taken while there is still light from the sky above - waiting too long results in a purely black silhouette.

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Dark rainbows, burning skies

Even without much editing, the incredible colours of intense sunsets can stun.

Clouds appear to burn, sunbeams sparkle in natural stripes, and reflections in water show movement. Clouds do seem to bring out the best of the colours, with some edges in shadow and others highlighted.

The sky as it nears dusk has its own rainbow of colours, a fiery yellow blends into gold, orange, hues of pink and red, then into the purples and indigo.

Often sunsets have mostly golden or red hues, such that the sky appears to burn. This occurs more strongly as the sun touches and sinks into the horizon.

In the light of sunsets, colours are often intensified. This is a great time to capture photos of flowers, insects and animals.

A purple rose with intense color and soft shadows.

A purple rose with intense color and soft shadows.

Golden hours

Sunset and sunrise are perfect for taking photos of other subjects. The warm and soft light brights out colours, masks imperfections and reduces stark shadows.

Outdoor portraits of people and pets work wonderfully in this light. Highlighting hair or fur with the golden setting sun looks stunning.

Stronger colours and softer shadows are better for flowers and macro photography.

Even food photography is better during these hours - the warmer tone makes the food look much more appetizing!

At sunrise and sunset, you can often capture light beams through the trees, and beautiful photos of misty and foggy landscapes.

Gear and training

Expensive gear, DSLR cameras and lenses, and hours of expensive photography courses are not necessary.

Even smaller digital cameras can be used, providing you can keep the camera still enough.

A tripod does help to prevent blurry shots, but can be unwieldy to move around.

A light carbon fiber tripod is fantastic for longer walks and hikes, but comes with quite a price tag. A monopod is much more portable, and typically less expensive.

Flexible bendy-arm Gorillapod tripods are great for securing the camera to a railing or positioning at odd angles.

A ball-head camera mount on the tripod gives you much more flexibility in positioning the camera. Some come with water levels so you can keep the horizon perfectly horizontal in your shots (no post-processing rotation needed).

Digital photography removes the cost of film development, so you can take as many photos as can fit on the memory card!

If you do have a DSLR, you can use any DSLR lens to capture sunsets. Wide-angled lenses capture landscapes, and zoom lenses allow you to capture a lot of detail.

Position yourself and the camera in a good spot, perhaps with a tripod, prepare to wait, and afterwards, sift through the less clear photos, and you will be rewarded with some truly wonderful sunset photos.

Don't get discouraged by blurry or less than perfect photos, keep photographing!

Final words

All of the photos on this page were taken by me, without having taken a photography course. For these I used a Canon Powershot 3IS, an older mid-model consumer camera, without using a tripod.

It is a little larger than the popular point-and-shoot cameras, but not as heavy and unwieldy as DSLR cameras and lenses. I find the built in image stabilization very important for capturing sunset photos. If I do use a tripod, I prefer the bendy type that I can fix to different surfaces - much more versatile than the solid, straight variants.

My favourite sunset-friendly place has to be Mount Hakodate in Hokkaido. Unfortunately, the locals and the tourists are aware of this, and the viewing areas are overflowing on any clear night. Often the moon rises over the water, and the town lights sparkle brightly, providing camera fodder for much longer than many other photography spots.

These sunset photos were taken in Australia: Melbourne, Cape Leeuwin in Western Australia; and in Japan: Kyoto, Nikko, Fukushima, Hakodate.

Mount Hakodate, sunset over the bay.

Mount Hakodate, sunset over the bay.


poetryman6969 on June 25, 2015:

Some awesome photos. I especially like the purple rose.

Voted up.

Ashraf Mir from Dhaka on September 30, 2012:

Beautiful photos taken by you and beautiful tips too. Thanks for the valuable tips.

Kymberly Fergusson (author) from Germany on September 11, 2012:

Doc - It is easier for me to capture sunsets and avoid camera shake, when I use the timer and a tripod, or even rest the camera on a stable surface (like a pole or rail). Hope the tips help! I'd love to see some sunset photos of Cape Cod!

Glen Nunes from Cape Cod, Massachusetts on September 10, 2012:

We get some awesome sunsets here on Cape Cod, but I've never been able to capture them very well. Thanks for these tips.

Kymberly Fergusson (author) from Germany on August 09, 2012:

jainismus - thank you! Hope the tips are!

MarleneB - The best thing to have for little cameras is a small tripod (like the Gorillapod by Joby) -- the smaller the camera is, the easier it is to shake them! Thank you!

Marlene Bertrand from USA on August 09, 2012:

It is comforting to know that my little Samsung digital camera is capable of taking a decent sunset. Your photos are absolutely beautiful. Thank you for all the fabulous tips.

Mahaveer Sanglikar from Pune, India on August 09, 2012:

Great photographs of sunset. Thank your for sharing them with tips.

Kymberly Fergusson (author) from Germany on June 28, 2012:

Shell - Thanks! I am still learning the settings on my camera, and I've had it for many years now - I'm very forgetful. The Canon Rebel is a great camera!

Shell Vera from Connecticut, USA on June 19, 2012:

Great pics! I really enjoyed this hub and the pictures. I love to take sunset pictures. I have a Canon Rebel and enjoy taking pictures with it but am still learning all the settings.

Kymberly Fergusson (author) from Germany on April 25, 2012:

Debbie - Thank you so much! I did notice that Melbourne seems to have a wider range of sunset colours - not sure why! My personal favourite is Hakodate, mostly because I was there and the location was incredible.

Kymberly Fergusson (author) from Germany on April 25, 2012:

Turtlewoman - I agree, the gallery is better for looking at the photos. But for illustrating concepts, I prefer the thumbnails. Thank you so much for reading and sharing!

Kymberly Fergusson (author) from Germany on April 25, 2012:

Fennelseed - I visited that spot with the high voltage lines four times before there was a brilliant-enough sunset to photo! Thank you so much!

Debbie Roberts from Greece on March 26, 2012:

All the photographs are stunning, but the ones taken in Melbourne are my favourite, I love the different colours in them.

Nice photographs and an interesting hub.

Voted up and beautiful.

PhotoTljn7 from United States on March 26, 2012:

Great information and awesome captures!

Kim Lam from California on March 24, 2012:

Kimberly, these photographs are too amazing to be presented in "thumbnail setting." I am obsessed with looking at sunsets...weird obsession, isn't? Thank you for sharing. I enjoyed reading the article! Voted up and sharing.

Annie Fenn from Australia on March 22, 2012:

Awesome photography, I absolutley love the powerlines radiating out from the sunset. Usually these manmade obstructions are just a blot on the landscape but you have used them here to highlight the scene. I am so glad I found your hubs. I am looking forward to checking them all out. Thank you for SHARING, my votes to you, nifwlseirff.

Cynthia Calhoun from Western NC on March 03, 2012:

Beautiful shots and great tips. I can't wait to see more hubs like this! Voted up and across.

Alissa Roberts from Normandy, TN on February 29, 2012:

These pictures are amazing! Exactly what I needed to see on this rainy day. Your tips will be most helpful to others trying to catch this breath taking moment. Thanks for sharing them with us - voted up!

Kymberly Fergusson (author) from Germany on February 21, 2012:

sgbrown - thank you so much again! I love taking sunset photos, it's a very peaceful time. Unfortunately, being further north, I'm often working past dusk during the winter. I'm looking forward to spring and summer.

Sheila Brown from Southern Oklahoma on February 06, 2012:

Another wonderful hub! Beautiful photos and great information. Very well written with wonderful descriptions. Voted up, beautiful and sharing this one too! Have a beautiful day!

Marcy Goodfleisch from Planet Earth on February 02, 2012:

Magnificent photos! Thanks for sharing your great talent with us - you're inspiring me to get the camera out again.

Kymberly Fergusson (author) from Germany on January 26, 2012:

Thank you so much ILovePlaid! Photography classes may not be necessary, but they would certainly be interesting! I'd like to attend one someday, but finance and time constraints are likely to get in my way!

ILovePlaid from here, there on January 26, 2012:

Beautiful photographs!! I know that you said photography classes are not needed, but one day, I hope to take some, just to gain some of the basics to build on.

Kymberly Fergusson (author) from Germany on January 26, 2012:

Thanks tammyfrost! It is definitely an odd yet lovely feeling to be the first one awake in a neighbourhood - something I don't get to experience very often now as most people are up before dawn here.

Tammy Winters from Oregon on January 26, 2012:

I am not great at taking these types of photos but I love it. I go out early in the morning and feel blessed to be the first one awake in neighborhood. Great Hub and Congrats.

travel-O-grapher from Dhaka, Bangladesh on January 12, 2012:

very nice photographs of sunsets in different climate conditions! well done!

Sharilee Swaity from Canada on December 26, 2011:

This article gives great advice for taking pictures at sunset -- one of my favourite times to take photos. I learned a lot from your hub. Thanks!

Kymberly Fergusson (author) from Germany on December 23, 2011:

Thanks alancaster149! Digital cameras have come a long way in the last 10 years - the cheap/small ones now can take wonderful photos, and they are so convenient.

Alan R Lancaster from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire) on December 21, 2011:

Like the Melbourne sunset with the twin pylons. Very technicolor! Soonest I catch hold of a good - cheap - digital camera the better. I had a nice Praktica LLT SLR that took film, but someone lifted it from my vehicle. My own fault, but maybe it's shown me the way...

Kymberly Fergusson (author) from Germany on December 12, 2011:

Thanks Beata!

No problems at all justom! Thanks for your pointers. And I will definitely keep shooting, learning and hopefully improving!

justom from 41042 on December 11, 2011:

First, thanks for understanding I wasn't trying to be mean spirited about your photos, sometimes when I try to leave a constructive comment folks get defensive. I just did a hub on a recent trip to Maine where I have some shots of sunsets where I included water, a dock and some trees to give you an idea of what I'm talking about. I think your information is really good so just keep shooting and learning, that's what's fun. I come from a film camera background so I'm still learning the digital end of photo editing. Peace!! Tom

Beata Stasak from Western Australia on December 11, 2011:

Love your sunset pictures and your advice is really helpful...thanks:)

Kymberly Fergusson (author) from Germany on December 11, 2011:

Thanks for your feedback justom! I'd be very grateful for any tips on framing that you'd like to share, as I'm always looking to improve!

justom from 41042 on December 10, 2011:

The colors of both sunrise and sunset lend themselves to good photos but you still need the knowledge of things like composition and while the colors in most of you shots are great the framing on many of them could use a bit of work. Digital photography is great but I think it's made folks a tad lazy about what the overall shot looks like. Peace!! Tom

Kymberly Fergusson (author) from Germany on December 10, 2011:

lzlpio90 and beijing driver - sunsets and sunrises are wonderful, wherever they are captured, and definitely irresistible to photographers, both amateur and professional!

Thank you both for your comments - I'm glad you enjoyed my photos!

Xin Ping from Beijing, China on December 10, 2011:

So beautiful sunset. I also have some one from the Great Wall of China .The new seven wonder of the world .

I used Canon.

lzlpio90 on December 09, 2011:

Stunning photos.... most photographers are obsessed with sunsets and sunrises....

Night Magic from Canada on December 06, 2011:

I love sunsets and yours are gorgeous.

Kymberly Fergusson (author) from Germany on December 04, 2011:

Thank you Millionaire Tips! My photography motto has always been: find a good spot, think about how you will edit the photos later (for framing/positioning/lighting), and take bucket-loads of photos. It usually results in many blurry photos, but also a growing number of gems.

The more you do something, the better you become at it!

Shasta Matova from USA on December 03, 2011:

Congrats on being nominated for the HubNuggers award. These are absolutely gorgeous photographs, and your advice makes me want to go out and take more pictures!

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