Sunsets are probably one of the most photographed subjects. What makes sunsets so attractive? Obviously colors and light, but frequently there are also clouds and their texture or shape that makes the images unforgettable. Many tourist attractions or scenic views attract crowds every day to admire the setting sun. It is often hard to find a perfect spot to pick for taking pictures.
What makes a spot perfect? A place allowing you an unobstructed view of the sky, a city skyline or another particular feature. Remember that moving along your location may reveal a very different view. Also turning a camera slightly from the same point can deliver a very different image. Therefore, even if you have been to a particular spot before, every day and every sunset is different. You can see below how different are the four sunsets. All are taken in Arlington, from the same spot in a little different direction to best capture drama in the sky.
Framing your view is important, what do you want to show in the image besides the changing color and light. Are there any shapes, buildings, trees, anything interesting that can play a central role in your photograph? Remember that each sunset only happens once and what you are trying to convey is a particular moment, one that cannot ever be reproduced. It is important that if someone looks at your picture they can relate to the moment you captured. There has to be something that makes it unique.
As the sun sets there is less and less light. So two things become important, having a fast lens and a tripod. Wide angle lens can help in capturing sunset or sunrise, many of those are also fast lenses. The above images were all shot without a tripod and through glass, so not under the best conditions. Using a Canon EF85mm f/1.8USM lens gives enough angle and allows to take pictures at relatively slow speeds.
City skylines and glass skyscrapers offer a great subjects to photograph at sunset. There are two ways of doing it.
One way of shooting a sunset, is to capture a moment when it happens and is spectacular. You can see examples of those types of shots below, San Antonio on the left and New York on the right. In NYC, a late afternoon stroll to Times Square was rewarded with this image of sky looking like a fireball. In this case I did not use any image enhancement for the NYC picture, it was extremely dramatic without a need for any additional changes. On the other hand, in San Antonio, I was strolling back towards the hotel, when the reflection in the windows captured my eye. You can see how different floors of the building reflect different colors of the sunset. When I turned around, the sunset was spectacular with amazing colors and textures. Finding the right angle and putting a camera on a tripod was a race, which I think I won with the below image of the sunset in San Antonio.
The second way, is to pre-plan your sunset trip to a scenic location around the city, set up and wait till the sunset starts happening. This is a well tried approach and beautiful shots can be made, especially when there are clouds in the sky. Skyline of Seattle and New York show different lighting conditions and directions of the shots. In Seattle, Kerry Park is one of the best places to see a sunset, as it offers an unobstructed view of the city. A panorama image taken from Long Island towards Manhattan shows just one of the great places to photograph a sunset in NYC.
As this story draws to a close, I wanted to share an image from Durham, NC, taken from the parking lot of the Southpoint Mall. I am sure you are thinking why this location? An explanation is simple. As I was driving along the road I have noticed the most gorgeous sunset one can see, colors, clouds everything so perfect. There was just one problem, I was on a highway, no way I can stop and take pictures. By pulling into the mall parking lot I was able to capture at least some of the beauty of this evening. It is not the perfect image one might want but it captures a unique moment in time.
The bottom line is do not get discouraged when it looks like you may miss a beautiful moment, try to capture it. If you are lucky enough to not be a driver, you can attempt taking pictures from the car. This requires a bit more than just a good eye, it needs a steady hand, good road and a bit of luck. Taking pictures from a moving car that is a separate topic, that I hope to get to later this year.
And to leave you with something actually not accidental for a sunset, here is a sunset in Toronto, Canada, over the lake. Enjoy and I will be back with more images of sunsets.