Sunset Photography Tips to Capture Amazing Images

When the day’s ending and the sky lights up with awesome colors, photographers everywhere grab their cameras. Here are a few sunset photography tips to capture amazing photos before, during and after the sun sets.

We’ll share sunset photo ideas, tips and techniques to help you capture stunning images during this prime time for taking pictures! We hope the tips below inspire you to get out and try new ways to photograph sunset.

sunset photography tips

From choosing the right equipment and mastering camera settings to scouting locations and composing your shots, we’ll cover everything you need to know to take your sunset photography to the next level. 

One of the best ways to improve your photography is by understanding and using basic photography techniques. Be sure to grab your free copy of our Photography Checklists by clicking the image below. You’ll get a packing list, settings list, and a composition list to capture amazing photos!

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Camera Gear for Landscape Photography

  • Tripod: take a look at these compact and lightweight travel tripods!
  • Camera Bag: protect your camera from sand and water → We use Lowepro camera backpacks for outdoor photography.
  • Neutral density filter: to compensate for variance of light you’ll need to use a neutral density filter. → Check out the Kase magnetic filters we use!
  • Camera cleaning kit: remove dust or water that WILL get on your lens. NOTE: this is not for cleaning the sensor.  
  • Memory cards: purchase name brand memory cards since you’re trusting your images to the card! → We use Lexar and Sandisk!
  • External hard drive: copy photos to a portable external hard drive ‘just in case’. 
  • Headlamp: use when taking sunrise and sunset photos!

Camera Gear at B&H Photo

camera accessories

Sunset Photography Tips

There’s something really special about that time when the sun is going down. Everything gets a warm, golden glow, and shadows get super long. It doesn’t matter if you’re just starting out or if you’ve been taking pictures for years – learning how to take great sunset photos can make your pictures way better.

Sunset at Arches National Park

Find the Right Location

Sunset happens quickly and the light is constantly changing. You must scout the location and determine composition before you show up to take photos. You’re looking for locations that have good compositional elements to provide interest for the viewer.

We found a terrific sunset photo spot at Arches National Park with the north window framing Turret Arch!

You can also look for compositions that will have both a front-lit scene and a backlit scene. They don’t have to be in the same spot, but should be close enough it only takes a few minutes to walk between them.

Tuweep Grand Canyon at sunset
Sunset at Tuweep, Grand Canyon

Track the Sun All the Way Down

The most popular type of sunset photo is to have a clear line of sight to the horizon where the sun will set. Yes, you get to have the setting sun in your photos, but it also allows you to keep your camera focused on one location as the sunset progresses.

This makes it easy to only focus on adjusting your settings as the light changes, and not worrying about moving from one place to another.

We found a spot at the rim of the Grand Canyon where we could see the setting sun on the horizon. The spot also included the Colorado River that acts as a leading line toward the sun.

sunset at Schwabacher Landing
Sunset at Grand Teton

Track the Sun to a Point of Interest

Find an element that will provide interest to the photo, in addition to the setting sun. The Teton mountains are a stunning subject to photograph, and one of the best ways to experience the beauty of the park is by watching the sun set over those majestic peaks.

Schwabacher Landing is one sunset photo spot at Grand Teton National Park where you can capture the setting sun as it dips behind the mountain peaks. The added bonus is to also photograph the reflection of the mountains in the river!

sunset at Oxbow Bend Grand Tetons

Include Interesting Elements in the Composition

A striking landscape photo, and this includes sunset photos, usually includes something out of the ordinary like clouds, fog or a reflection.

This photograph at Oxbow Bend at Grand Teton includes clouds and a reflection. The sun had already set, but the clouds illuminated with wonderful colors. And again, the scene reflected in the calm river adds even more interest.

Natural elements are all around. Find that ‘something’ to help set your photo apart from the everyday landscape scene.

mitten at Monument Valley
Sunset at Monument Valley

Capture the Reflected Light at Sunset

As you scout for good sunset locations, don’t limit yourself to only photograph toward the setting sun. There are wonderful scenes and elements that glow with the reflected light as the sun sets.

At Monument Valley, the golden hour light illuminates the buttes while the surrounding shadows help to make them stand out.

golden hour light at Moab along the Colorado River
Sunset in Moab

You may get tired of us showing photos with reflections in water, but it’s an element of composition that makes your photos pop! We found a terrific sunset photo spot in Moab, Utah along the Colorado River.

The soft light at sunset is casting a warm glow on the sandstone rocks and the reflection in the river provides impact and interest.

colorful clouds at sunset at Antelope Island
Sunset at Antelope Island

Use the Weather to Your Advantage

Clouds are one of those things that can instantly elevate your sunset photo. When the clouds capture the colors of the setting sun, you will get spectacular images.

The more radiant colors appear when there are small, white, thin clouds very high in the sky. These types of clouds catch the sunlight from beneath and we can see the dramatic colors on the ground.

The view of the Great Salt Lake from Antelope Island in Utah provided the perfect vantage point to capture this colorful scene!

sunset at Zion Kolob Terrace
Sunset at Zion National Park

One of the Zion National Park sunset spots is found in the Kolob Terrace area where there’s a view across a valley. When the clouds cooperate, you can capture a fantastic photo!

smoky sunset at Glacier National Park
Smoky sunset at Glacier National Park

Did you know that when there is smoke or dust in the air, the color of the sun intensifies to orange or even red? We discovered how beautiful the sun can be with smoke in the air when we visited Glacier National Park during the fall when there was a wildfire in the park.

The trick is to find a scene that showcases the sun with elements to provide interest. When the conditions aren’t ideal, use them to your advantage. The quality of the photograph has less to do with the situation, and more to do with how you react to it!

Oxbow Bend Snake River sunset reflection at Grand Teton
Sunset at Oxbow Bend at Grand Teton National Park

Look Behind You

There is one thing we hope our students learn from us: ALWAYS pay attention to the sky and landscape behind you. Reflected light and color can create wonderful scenes away from the direction where the sun is setting.

This was the dramatic sky at Oxbow Bend in Grand Teton National Park one evening. Most people were looking toward the mountains where the sun was going down, and they missed it!

golden hour sunset at Monument Valley
Golden hour sunset at Monument Valley

Keep Taking Photos

The light is always changing as the sun drops toward the horizon. As the sun moves and sets, the colors you capture will change as well.

Golden Hour light produces orange, red and pink hues as seen in this photo at Monument Valley.

Notice the same scene taken a bit later during the Blue Hour. Photos taken at this time include more cool hues like blue and purple.

blue hour sunset at Monument Valley
Blue hour after sunset at Monument Valley

Don’t put your camera away after the sun drops below the horizon! There is variation of color in the sky that you can’t see. It’s so subtle to our eyes, but the camera will capture it.

blue hour at Lone Rock Lake Powell Utah
Lone Rock at Lake Powell

We rushed to this beach location at Lake Powell in Utah to photograph Lone Rock. It was pretty dim when we arrived, and I was skeptical we would get a good photo.

As you can see, the camera was able to capture the scene just fine. Dave did have to process this photo a bit in Lightroom, but not too much.

Your camera will need low-light capability to get good images. Smartphone photos turn out too grainy once the sun sets.

sunset photography tips and ideas

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2 Comments

  1. Great information. thank you so much.
    First time out there and going on a sunset tour.
    You recommend a ND filter? Which one?
    We will be going first week in October. Excited but want to make sure I buy the right filters.
    Thank you again for your help!

    1. We use a Kase Wolverine 3 stop (.9) Graduated ND filter for sunrise and sunset landscapes. We prefer the Kase .9 because we have found that three stops provides the dynamic range adjustment we need in sunrise and sunset landscapes. There are lighter and darker filters available singly or in kits of three. The 2, 3, and 4 stop Graduated ND filters are best for this type of landscape photography. A key consideration in choosing a filter is obtaining one of good quality. There are a number of quality brands available such as Kase, Tiffen, Benro, Breakthrough or Lee depending on your budget. Please email info@photojeepers.com if you have any more questions. We’re happy to help you plan for your trip to Arches!

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