Sunsets are dreamy and romantic, and I have never met a person who doesn't love sunsets. However, it can become tricky when choosing which camera settings you should use. If you aren't a professional photographer, you will encounter a few camera-setting obstacles.
This guide will go over the best camera settings for sunset. Just remember, this is a guide, not a rule. Use these settings as a starting point and experiment from there.
Overall, the best camera settings for sunset are:
- Set your camera to manual mode "M"
- Select 100 ISO
- Set your shutter speed to 1/30 seconds or longer
- Use a wide-angle lens in the range of 18 - 24 mm
- Set your lens to manual focus
- Choose an aperture of f/16
- Select "Daylight" white balance
- Use a tripod
How to Set Up Your Camera for Sunset Photography
Shoot in Raw
The first recommendation is to shoot your photographs in Raw format. Have your white balance set to capture sunset colors. With Raw file formats, you can adjust any shadow areas during post-processing. Typically with sunset photographs, the lower your sun gets, your foreground will pick up more shadows than you would like.
Related article: How to Edit RAW Images in Photoshop
Use a Tripod
You want to eliminate the risk of a blurred photo. To do this, you are going to need to use a tripod. A tripod on hand guarantees clear shots, especially when you are using longer exposure times. Even the slightest movement will ruin your photograph.
Daylight White Balance Preset
A surefire way to capture the beautiful yellows and oranges in the sky is to shoot with a daylight white balance preset. Never choose auto white balance! When you do this, you will get dull colors, and it will also flatten your image.
Related article: White Balance Photography: What is White Balance
Choose Manual Mode
Again, using these automatic settings will give you an image that is less than desirable. You want to have control over how your camera captures your scene. One of the reasons shooting automatic is difficult with sunsets is the ever-changing colors. With the sun slowly going down, each second will give you different colors in your scenery. So, to get the most accurate exposure for your current shot, you need to set your camera manually.
Set a Narrow Aperture
Like most landscape photography, you will want to get a maximum depth of field. To do this, set a narrow aperture, and anything between an f/16 to f/22 will work great!
Shoot with an ND Graduated Neutral Density Filter
It can be pretty tricky to photograph vibrant colors when you have shadows in the foreground. Invest in an ND filter to help balance those contrasts. An ND filter is a piece of thin glass that is partially darkened. You mount this filter onto your camera, which will help you get the best exposure by limiting the amount of light from your sky.
No ND Filter? Try Exposure Blending
One of the best techniques to help with your colors is exposure blending. When you do this, shoot your scene twice. Your first shot should be exposed to the sky, and your second shot should be exposed to the land. Once done, you can combine the two images during post-processing. When you blend these photos, you will get a fantastic photo highlighting the best colors and range.
Try HDR Mode
Most cameras currently have an HDR mode, and this mode will help balance out the exposures from the sky and foreground.
A wise decision is to use an off-camera flash if you have a person in your scene, and this flash will help eradicate any unwanted shadows on their face.
Expose for the Sky
You will want to keep your focus on the sky. That's where the mesmerizing colors will come from, and that's why you will be setting your exposure for the sky.
When to Underexpose Your Background
When you use a flash, you will want to underexpose your background. Use a fast shutter speed for this.
When to Overexpose Your Background
Overexpose your photograph to brighten your subject when you don't have a flash. Use a slow shutter speed for this.
Check your Histogram
Go into your settings and pull up your histogram. Another name for this is the exposure graph. You will see the balance of shadows, midtown, and highlights when you open this. This will help you during the exposure so you can see how balanced everything is.
Try a Reflector
When you aren't using flash, use a reflector to help bounce light into your scene.
Invest in a few accessories to improve your sunset photographs:
Sunset Calculator - You can get a sunset calculator app that will quickly tell you what time the sun will set, the angle, location, and date. This will help when you are planning.
Prism Lens FX Filters - You can instantly get that sunset glow you crave from a Prism Lens FX filter. A sunset filter will enhance your warm colors.
Remote Control - A shutter release cable will come in handy since you need to eliminate camera shake. Using this will help you take a photo without physically touching the camera. Therefore, zero movements, and you will get extremely clear photographs.
The guide above will help you set your camera and give you little tips and tricks to improve your sunset photography. However, always remember that trial and error is the best way to get perfect pictures and take plenty of test shots to determine which settings work best for you.
Related article: Camera Settings Guide – Best Camera Settings in Photography
Related article: Landscape Photography Settings
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