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How to take better sunset photos

The other day I went to the beach with the idea of taking pictures at sunset. When I arrived at the beach the sky was covered with clouds that seemed to grow larger and darker by the second.

At first, I started to grab all my marbles, turn around and head home to wait for another day. But, something told me to stay and wait a while. I pulled out my camera and tripod and began to set up. Then a guy walked up to me and said, “I don’t think we are going to get a sunset today.” He was also planning on taking pictures of the sunset that evening but had given up all hope. He packed his camera for the day and was heading home.

I must admit, it didn’t look good but I told him I was going to wait it out and see what happens. He wished me luck and walked away.

Patience pays off

One thing I’ve learned in photography is that patience rewards the faithful, so I continued to watch the clouds and prepared to take my shot in the event the sun decided to make an appearance. I’ve witnessed the sun appear through the clouds right before sunset and crossed my fingers I would get lucky to witness this again. Some of the best sunsets happen on dark cloudy days.

As I waited to see if the sunset would happen, I thought about the images I wanted to create and how to make a sunset picture more impactful. I decided to change my position so I’d be able to include silhouettes of people with my sunset. Including a human element creates a personal touch and makes for better sunset pictures.

Man at Sunset
Man at Sunset

I repositioned my tripod and started taking pictures to test my idea. I discovered people would stop out of consideration if they thought I was taking a picture. However, that is exactly what I wanted, people walking through my frame so I had to change the way I approached taking pictures.

I pulled out my cable release and decided to change from looking through my camera viewfinder to looking down, or away as people walked by, this way, they wouldn’t think I was taking a picture. All of a sudden, the sun dropped below the clouds and splashed beautiful, warm sunlight all over the landscape and I started taking pictures. As people walked by my frame, I took three to four images until the sun vanished into the sea.

cloudy sunset
Sunset on a cloudy day
Sunset walk
Sunset walk

What gear I use for sunset

To create my sunset shots, I used a circular polarizer and under-unexposed my pictures by one full stop using my camera’s exposure compensation dial. This enabled me to get richer colors, deeper silhouettes and better sunset pictures overall.

Gear used:

  1. Nikon D4S
  2. Nikkor 35mm 1.4 lens
  3. Circular polarizer
  4. Tripod
  5. Nikon cable release

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Rafael Jones

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