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The light before, during and after the sun sets is one of the BEST times to take photos!

But, it’s also a tricky and complex time to take photos because as the light changes, you as the photographer must be ready to adapt and adjust your settings.

Practice taking photos at sunset is the best way to learn this important photography technique.

Here are a few sunset photography tips to help you as you plan your outings!

  • Find the Right Location
  • Track the Sun All the Way Down
  • Track the Sun to a Point of Interest
  • Include Interesting Elements in the Composition
  • Capture the Reflected Light
  • Use Weather to Your Advantage

CHECK OUT these amazing sunset photo ideas!

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CAMERA EQUIPMENT FOR LANDSCAPE PHOTOGRAPHY

We like to use a Camera Gear Checklist of our equipment so we don’t foget anything when heading out to take photos!

Here’s a few of the important things you’ll need photograph reflections in water:

1. Camera: If you’re looking for something new…

→ Check out the compact travel cameras we recommend!

→ Check out these awesome DSLR cameras!

2. Tripod: We are big proponents of using a tripod. There are many compact and lightweight options out there that are easy to use.

→ Check out the tripods we recommend!

3. Lenses: A good prime lens works well for photographing reflections. We find that wider angles work best. For landscapes we use 24mm f/1.4, 50mm f/1.8, and 24-120mm f/4 lenses. 

→ Prime lenses for landscape photography.

4. Camera Bag: Protecting your camera from the elements (like sand and dust) is essential. Using a camera backpack is so nice for hiking too.

→ Check out our camera backpack for outdoor photography.

5. Neutral density filter: There can be extreme differences in light outdoors when photographing landscape scenes. To compensate for this variance of light you’ll need to use a neutral density filter.

→ Check out the Kase magnetic filters we use!

6. Camera cleaning kit: You’ll want a field cleaning kit to remove dust or water that may make its way to your lens. NOTE: this is not for cleaning the sensor.

→ This is the camera cleaning kit we use!

7. Memory cards: Purchase name brand memory cards since you’re trusting your images to the card! 

→ We use Lexar and Sandisk!

8. External hard drive: Don’t forget to copy the photos to a portable external hard drive ‘just in case’.

→ Check out these awesome portable external hard drives

9. Headlamp: Early morning or late evening is a good time for photographing reflections. This means you may be navigating in the dark. We like to wear a headlamp because it allows us to set up equipment without having to hold a flashlight. Remember to use the red light setting and keep the beam pointed on the ground in front of you to avoid disrupting other photographers in the area.

→ Check out these headlamps with the red light!

SUNSET PHOTOGRAPHY TIPS

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.

Draper Utah sunset

Find locations that have the right elements to capture a stunning sunset photo.

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.

Grand Canyon Tuweep at sunset with the Colorado River at the bottom of the canyon.

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 and sheer canyon walls as points of interest in the photo.

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 sun setting behind the Teton mountains at Grand Teton National Park, and the scene reflected in the river

The Teton mountains at Grand Teton National Park are spectacular. We found a location that would allow us to capture the setting sun as it began to dip behind the mountain peaks. And to have that scene reflected in the river was an added bonus!

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.

Oxbow Bend at sunset at Grand Teton National Park

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

For example, we were at Utah Lake one evening in the late winter/early spring. We saw broken sheets of ice floating in the lake, and noticed the golden glow on these ice sheets as the sun was setting.

Utah Lake at sunset with floating sheets of ice

This is something you don’t see every day!

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.

The mitten butte at Monument Valley at sunset.

You may get tired of us showing photos with reflections in water, but it’s an element of composition that makes your photos pop!

Reflection of red rocks in the Colorado River near Moab, Utah at sunset

The soft light at sunset is casting a warm glow on the sandstone rocks at Moab, Utah. And look at how the reflection in the Colorado River provides impact and interest.

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.

Colorful clouds at sunset at Antelope Island, Great Salt Lake, Utah, USA

These types of clouds catch the sunlight from beneath and we can see the dramatic colors on the ground.

You’ll see perfect sunset clouds when the weather is hot and dry, like we found when visiting Zion National Park.

Sunset at Kolob Terrace in Zion National Park, Utah, USA

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 sunset along the river at Glacier National Park with the air filled with smoke during a wildfire

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.

Sunset at McDonald Lake in Glacier National Park - the sun is red due to smoke in the air from a wildfire

The quality of the photograph has less to do with the situation, and more to do with how you react to it!

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.

colorful clouds at sunset reflecting into the Snake River at Oxbow Bend at Grand Teton National Park

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!

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.

Sunset at golden hour 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.

Sunset at blue hour 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.

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.

Lone Rock at Lake Powell after sunset

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

WHERE SHOULD I BUY CAMERA EQUIPMENT?

We get asked this question often. There are two places where we buy our cameras, lenses and other accessories: Amazon and B&H Photo.

B&H Photo is our go-to company for buying the high quality cameras, tripods and lenses. They are a reputable company that’s been in business for over 45 years. Their customer service and knowledge about photography equipment gives us peace of mind when spending money on higher ticket items.

→ Check out Photography Gear at B&H Photo

Amazon is where we buy most of our camera accessories like filters, memory cards, etc. The free two-day shipping is always a plus. We have bought cameras, lenses and tripods from Amazon with no problem as well. They are good about returns, but won’t be able to answer gear-specific questions.

→ Check out Photography Gear on Amazon

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