how to shoot sunsets

steve davey sunsetYou are in position and awaiting that ideal instant when the sun dips down to the horizon and says its final farewell to the day. You gently click on the camera shutter and hope for the best, but instead you get a mediocre photo that doesn’t do the stunning scene justice. So how can you shoot better sunsets? World-renowned photographer Steve Davey sheds light on the subject…

“Somewhat like lemmings we all seem to flock to sunset points around the world to fire off a phenomenal number of sunset pictures. Clicking away like our lives depend on it, we fill countless memory cards with pictures, yet many of us come away disappointed with the pictures we shoot. They are either too dark, or too light, or just too boring.

Avoid the sun
It might sound strange, but if you want to get good sunset pictures, the best advice is often to exclude the sun completely. If you have the sun in your picture, then the contrast can be too great, leading it to be too light in your picture and the rest of the sky too dark and colourless. Unless the sun has turned in to a glowing red ball just before it dips below the horizon, then you will get a better picture if you wait until it just dips below the horizon, or use a telephoto lens to crop out a more dramatic part of the picture.

Shoot a silhouette
There is only one sun in the sky, which means that wherever you shoot from, the sun will essentially look the same. A good way to make your pictures look more like they have a sense of the place where you took them is to include something typical from your destination. This might be the light shining off the side of a river boat in Laos, setting behind the Grand Palace in Bangkok or even silhouetting a camel at Pushkar Fair in India. Very often your subject will be so dark that you won’t be able to show it as anything other than a silhouette, but as long as it has a strong and recognisable shape this can make a very effective image.

Keep shooting
The sunset will change dramatically, and will often continue to get better even after the sun has dipped below the horizon. Keep shooting and you might be rewarded with even more dramatic images. The sun can change from orange to pink or even purple, especially if there are clouds in the sky that can reflect the light of the sun even after it has disappeared. Don’t rush off as soon as the sun goes – there will be plenty of time for that celebration drink, or better still, bring one with you to toast the sun as you take pictures!

Remember the sunrise
Don’t forget the evil twin of the sunset: the sunrise! Sunrises can be more misty and evocative. It might also sound obvious, but as the sun comes from the opposite direction as a sunrise, you can shoot at times when the light is in the wrong direction at sunset. Sunrises also have the advantage that you will find fewer people in your way: you won’t have to struggle to avoid crowds of tourists cluttering up your pictures!”

Steve leads his own travel photography tours, with all land arrangements provided by Intrepid Travel. The next destination is to the exotic South of India where you get to take in a temple festival with caparisoned elephants. Impressions of Kerala departs Kochi (Cochin) on 24 November 2010 for 14 days. More details on www.bettertravelphotography.com/kerala.

* photo © Steve Davey.

About the author

Sue Elliot - Like many of us, Sue contracted a serious travel bug at an early age. She's visited over 90 countries in search of a cure, but her wanderlust just seems to get worse. Thankfully at Intrepid Travel she's amongst people who understand the affliction and since 1998 Sue has enjoyed being our blog and newsletter editor. Here you'll find helpful travel advice and inspiring tales from Sue and other Intrepid travellers.

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2 comments

Very useful hints – thank you. I can remember waking up in the Torres del Paine National Park in South America five years ago to the most amazing sunrise – 4.45am. Los Cuernos were bathed in a pink and rosy glow that gave the bare crags an ethereal glow – one of the best pictures of my south american tour.
Sunsets here in west Wales can be extraordinary – the trick is to wait until it is very nearly dark. Then the late colours in the sky contrast well with the dark and solid land silhouette.

I’m reminded of how my Serengeti sunglasses often jazz up a scene by adding a pinkish tone to natural colors. Once I’ve uploaded my photos to the computer, I ‘ll often duplicate a good picture and play with the copy by, for instance, cropping it and adjusting the tint, and especially by increasing the color saturation. I don’t consider this “cheating” on the original sunset because, after all, Ansel Adams had to do a ton of darkroom magic on each print he made of the famous “Moonrise, Hernandez, N.M.” in order to turn a weak negative into a masterful photo.

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