Best Tip for Sunset Photography – Capture Amazing Sunsets

Best Tip for Sunset Photography – Capture Amazing Sunsets

If there’s one thing photography has taught me it’s patience. Or at least I’d like to think so. I’ve been fortunate enough to live near the ocean most of my life and I can’t count the number of times I’ve set out to go to the beach thinking “It’s gonna be this kind of day” or “It’s gonna be that kind of night” only to get there and have Mother Nature serve up something completely not what I was expecting.

This was one of those nights.

After hanging around the house for much of the day, I noticed sunset was approaching. So I looked at the sky searching for interesting cloud formations as I usually do – then suggested to my wife that we go to the beach to watch the sunset. We headed to Laguna Beach and ended up at Moss Cove. At first blush the sunset didn’t look that special and I was worried about a cloud bank that threatened to shut the whole thing down.

It’s not uncommon for the clouds to hug the horizon which ends up showing only the sun ball just before it slips beneath the horizon (see photo below). I’ve definitely seen my share of these – there not exactly a spectacle to witness and I wasn’t looking forward to another one. But we made the walk down to the beach to hang out anyway, determined to enjoy the evening.

Typical Sunset Skunking | 1/13 sec. | f/11 | ISO 100

Once on the beach, I setup my Sony A7RIII camera, Benro tripod and attached a Lee filter holder with my trusty Singh-Ray reverse graduated, neutral density filter. A must have for any sunset photographer. I was also switching between an ICE 100mm neutral density 6 stop filter and the Lee Big Stopper 10 stop neutral density filter. I do recommend picking up at least the reverse ND grad filter if you’re going to photograph sunsets with any frequency. You really can’t capture all of the detail in the brightest areas of the frame if the sun is in you’re comp without a good filter.

As you can see from the photos, the time period right before the sunset wasn’t all that spectacular, but I kept shooting anyway. I happen to love the process of photography – the end result is nice – but the process of traveling to a location, walking / hiking there, surveying the area for the best composition, setting up and finally shooting is my meditation. And on occasions where that process happens at Laguna Beach I’m in heaven! If you’ve never been I highly encourage you to go and treat yourself to the beautiful beaches and scenery.

Dropping behind the horizon | 70 sec. | f/11 | ISO 50

Just as the sun ball started to dip behind the horizon I noticed the clouds starting to light up. At that point I knew we were in for something special. Of course, as soon as the sun was below the horizon, I noticed the other people on this small stretch of beach get up, gather their things and begin to leave. Even a couple other photographers packed their gear and left. “That’s it, shows over.” – or so they thought.

Not too shabby! | 0.4 sec. | f/11 | ISO 50
Clouds starting to fire up | 60 sec. | f/11 | ISO 100

This is my biggest tip for getting the best sunset photos. Stay until the end – no matter what you think is going to happen. Stay and watch and learn as much as you can about the sky and the environment you’re shooting in. We’ll never fully be able to predict what Mother Nature is going to do so why try? Get where you’re going to shoot as early as possible, sit back, slow down, relax and settle in for whatever is going to happen. If you go with no expectations, then you’ll never be let down. Honestly, when sitting in one of the most beautiful beaches in the US, what’s the hurry to leave?

After the sun ball was gone, the angle of the light rising behind the horizon began to light up the sky and the clouds with a million colors. It was one of the best sunsets I’ve seen and truly was something special to witness. I was so happy my wife was there so we could share it together.

Moss Beach Fire Sunset I | 3.2 sec. | f/13 | ISO 50
Moss Beach Fire Sunset III 0.5 sec. | f/5.6 | ISO 100
Moss Beach Fire Sunset II 2.5 sec. | f/10 | ISO 50
Moss Beach Fire Sunset 0.6 sec. | f/7.1 | ISO 100

And just like that it was gone.

6.0 sec. | f/9 | ISO 100

So my advice for capturing amazing sunset photos is go often and stay late. You never know what’s going to happen and if you go without any expectations you’ll always be pleasantly surprised.

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Feel free to leave comments if you have any questions, I love talking about photography and would be happy to answer anything I can.

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