Sunset Photo Tips

Here's how to capture a sunset photo spectacle in its full glory

Sitting on a beach and watching the sun's descent is one of the main reasons we love to vacation on islands. Here's how to capture the evening spectacle in its full glory.

Photo Tips | How To |
Islamorada, FloridaJon Whittle

First, scope out your sunset photo well before the action begins. When the color starts, it goes quickly - try to arrive ahead of time. Some sunsets have enough layers of colors and clouds in the scene to stand on their own, but most of the time, a sunset pic is better with other elements incorporated into the composition. Look for interesting objects to frame the edges of your photo, like the leaves of a tree of the overhang of a palapa.

Second, don't forget to turn around. Sometimes the most beautiful part of a sunset is what's happening behind you, but many people become so entranced by the western horizon that they forget to check the rest of the sky. Once the sun is down, don't be too quick to leave. The sun slipping below the horizon might be the main event, but the most spectacular color often doesn't bloom until the sun departs.


When you point a camera at the setting sun, the light meter inside automatically chooses an exposure that will capture every bit of detail in the sky. In doing so, it often chooses an f-stop and shutter-speed combination that is substantially darker than it needs to be, resulting in an underexposed image. To compensate for this on a DSLR, use your exposure-compensation dial (usually denoted by a +/- symbol) and adjust it to +1. In doing this, you're telling the camera to brighten the exposure by one stop. If that's not enough, try going up to +2.


Tapping different areas of your screen can change both the point of focus and the exposure. If you touch the screen in an area of extreme highlight (like the sun itself) you'll see the exposure of your sunset photo go darker as the phone tries to underexpose to render detail. Next, touch an area of silhouette in the frame and the phone will raise the exposure enough to find details in the shadows, making the entire image brighter. The trick here is to find an area of middle tonality - touch that section to achieve a balanced exposure across the photo.


On most Androids, there is a small gear icon on the screen. Under this menu, you'll find an exposure-compensation menu with a +/- symbol very similar to that on a DSLR. Pressing that button will display a vertical slider that can make the exposure brighter (by sliding up) or darker (by sliding down).

Put your new sunset photo shooting skills to use at our top 16 places to go in 2016.