Camera Settings for a Sunset Photo

Photographing a sunset is exciting. The light changes by the minute (or even second) as the sun sinks lower on the horizon. And some of the best images happen just before the sun sinks below the horizon, especially if you have calm water and wonderful billowing clouds.

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In order to capture the best possible photo, you need to use the right equipment and settings. The following list, similar to the previous list for shooting sunrise photos, will get you pointed in the right direction:

  • Focal length: When you’re photographing a compelling landscape at sunset, choose a wide-angle focal length between 24mm and 35mm. The sun will be relatively small in the image, but you’ll capture the beauty of the landscape and any clouds in the area. In addition, your camera doesn’t have to compensate for a wide dynamic range because the sun is a very small part of the image.

    For something different, try photographing the sunset with a telephoto lens. The sun will be much larger in your image, and other parts of the scene will be compressed, making them appear closer to the camera and each other than they really are.

    Never look directly at the sun through your camera lens, because this can damage your vision. If your camera has Live View, enable it and compose the scene using your LCD monitor. If you use Live View, don’t use it any longer than you have to. Prolonged exposure to the sun can damage the camera sensor, especially when you use a telephoto lens.

  • Shooting mode: Use Aperture Priority mode when you photograph a landscape at sunset to gain total control over the depth of field.

  • ISO: Lowest possible ISO setting for the available light. If you have lots of clouds in the sky, you may have to increase the ISO setting, even when photographing a sunset. The alternative is to mount your camera on a tripod.

  • Aperture: Choose a small aperture with an f-stop value of f/16 or higher (smaller aperture). This gives you a large depth of field. You can get by with a shutter speed of 1/30 of a second if your camera has image stabilization.

    If you shoot at the smallest recommended aperture and your shutter speed dips too low, the alternative is to increase the ISO setting. Don’t increase the ISO setting beyond 400, or 800 if your camera has a full-frame sensor, especially if the scene has lots of shadow areas.

  • Tripod: A tripod is optional but ensures that you get a sharper image.

  • Exposure compensation: When you photograph a scene as the sun is setting, your camera will meter the scene and crank up the exposure to create an image that is brighter than it should be. The sun may be bright, but your scene also has dark areas.

    In order to keep one step ahead of your camera, review each photo immediately after you take it. If the image on your LCD monitor is brighter than the scene before you, use exposure compensation to decrease the exposure.

  • Reverse graduated neutral density filter: This filter makes the dynamic range more manageable for your camera by making the horizon darker. This filter is darkest at the middle and gradually becomes clear at the top.

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