At the end of the day


Jamie Dean

Audio & TV, Peter Jones

How to take classic sunset shots

The sunset is probably the most widely-appreciated scene ever likely to be photographed, but is it possible to take a good photograph with your compact digital camera? Don’t you need the sophistication of a DSLR? In my experience, the compact is perfectly placed to grab glorious sunsets on the go, if you just follow a few key points.

Switch off the flash

Leaving your flash on Auto doesn’t allow the camera to reach the required settings to record the vibrance a sunset has to offer. (If you want to photograph a person in the scene, then use slow-synch flash.).

Brace youself

Of course though, if you switch off the flash the camera’s shutter speed will slow down, so you’ll need to brace your camera to prevent the image becoming soft due to camera shake. You could do this by resting it on a wall, bracing yourself against a tree, or using any other makeshift support you might find. If you have a small tripod or gorilla pod, perfect.

If you’re unable to brace the camera, it’s an idea to include more sky than foregrounds in your composition, as the brightness of the sky will increase the shutter speed. Perhaps include two-thirds sky above the horizon, which of course is important to keep perfectly horizontal wherever it sits within the image.

Negative compensation

If, when you look at the screen you see that the sky is going to be recorded too bright, maybe due to a dark foreground, then use the camera’s exposure compensation to dial in some negative – you’ll see the effect this will have on the viewing screen as you do this. Adjusting the exposure will deepen the oranges and reds in the sky, but will turn the foreground into silhouette.

Get plenty of water

When you’re composing your sunset picture, if you’re by the sea or a lake ensure you include the water as this will often reflect the colours within the sky. If the surface is still, it will act like a mirror giving some more detailed reflections.

Find a landmark

If you’re in the city include the silhouette of a well-known landmark like the Eiffel Tower in Paris, Big Ben or the London Eye in London, as this will help identify where you were when you took the photograph. Again here try to shoot a third with either sky or foreground, depending which is more interesting. It’s important though not to have too much black at the bottom of the picture if there isn’t any shape to it.

Salute the sun

Sometimes it’s not always a good idea to include the sun in the photograph - maybe just have it outside of frame to one side, as if it’s included it’s often burnt out. If there’s good cloud cover, this will enhance the image and make it more striking. Don’t forget to look over your shoulder too, as it’s not always the case that the best shots are taken into the setting sun…