Snap chat. Why are sunsets notoriously difficult?

Sunset, India.

I find sunset photos very difficult to photograph. As the sun falls toward the horizon and the light fades, all the foreground details disappear. You have this beautiful flare of light across the sky, which takes your breath away. But if you just take a snap of that broad wash of colour, it is almost certain that it doesn’t translate when you look at your pictures later.

You still need a point of interest. A silhouette is usually the easiest. Use the rule of thirds and put the horizon in the top third or the bottom third.

Ironically, if you want the sky to be the point of interest in the picture, you’d prefer a cloudy day so that the clouds produce interesting striations or dispersions of colour.

I’d welcome other handy hints. In spite of the pearls of wisdom I’ve spelt out above, I have less than a handful of decent sunset images … and that’s a whole lot less than the number of times I’ve been sipping a margarita and watching the sun go down.

~ Spotted Cow

Sunset, HawaiiSunset, Brighton

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11 thoughts on “Snap chat. Why are sunsets notoriously difficult?

  1. Yup, very difficult indeed! While I have yet to try this myself, I’ve learned that using a graduated neutral density filter will help solve the problem as you take the picture. Otherwise, you’re relegated to taking a few shots of the same scene at different exposures (at a minimum, one exposed for the shadows and one exposed for the sunset/sunrise) and combining them in post-production. Of course, this requires shooting with a tripod so you can effectively combine them AND having a program like Photoshop or Photomatix (I think that’s the name of it) or something similar to do the combining. So learning to use a filter seems the least complicated (or simply shoot silhouettes, as you have done so wonderfully!).

    1. Thanks Stacy! I hadn’t thought of that, largely because the only filter I carry around is a polarising one. But that’s a good suggestion. I’ve got a graduated ND filter somewhere, and I’ll try it out next time I’m feeling inspired by a sunset.

  2. If you want some foreground detail/interest, take one of those foldable light reflectors along, and reflect light back into the shadow areas.
    You just have to remember to take it, so a little planning is sometimes in order. 🙂

    1. I don’t have one of those because I’ve always thought it was such a faff to carry around. But I can see why it would be useful to not always rely on silhouettes to form the point of interest. I’ll have to weigh up its usefulness against how many sunset shots I might potentially take.

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