Step-by-Step Guide to Better Sunset Photography

Having a DSLR camera to use is the ultimate thrill for a budding photographer. Taking great sunset shots should be easy with such a great tool, right? You would think so, yet I know people who have invested in decent cameras but still could not create stunning sunset shots that even their previous compact camera could take. This article suggests steps you can take to optimize your DSLR for sunset photographs.

city sunset

“Chicago Sunset” captured by PictureSocial member Ronald Quillopas

1. Shooting Mode

Many compact cameras have a setting for sunsets, yet DSLRs don’t, so you have to take control of the situation. Turn off your fully auto, or basic shooting modes, and use your creative zone modes of P (program mode), Tv (shutter priority), Av (aperture priority) or M (manual) so that you have full control over the camera’s parameters.

2. White Balance

Auto White Balance can neutralize a sunset’s glow, so switch to manual White Balance and choose a setting of Cloudy or Shade.

3. Picture Styles

Most DSLRs give you a number of user-defined picture styles if you’re shooting JPEGs, so set one of these up for taking sunsets. Leave sharpness as standard and add a little saturation.

You need to reduce the contrast to avoid your final image appearing over silhouetted. Adjust the Contrast slider in your user defined Picture Style one or two notches to the left. A reddish color cast can also be achieved by doing the same with your Color Tone settings.

sunset photography

“Dusk” captured by PictureSocial member Steve Ward

4. ISO

Set your ISO at the lowest setting of ISO 100. There’s usually plenty of brightness in the sky, so this is fine. Sunsets can suffer from grainy images with higher ISO settings.

5. Metering Mode

Exposure is important in any sunset shot. It’s best to switch to partial metering mode and take a manual meter reading. This can be a difficult aspect of digital photography for beginners, so I’ll explain how to do this.

Once in partial metering mode, point the camera at a bright area of the sky, directly above the setting sun. Press the star button on the back of the camera to take a light reading and to set the exposure. Then compose your shot and press the shutter release to drive the autofocus and capture the image.

6. Composition

Consider your composition. Silhouetted objects and figures in the foreground will add interest. Reflective surfaces, such as lake water, the sea, or wet roads will bring added color to the shot.

sunset silhouette

“Futsal by the Beach” captured by PictureSocial member Christine Yuni

Beware—once the sun starts to near the horizon, it sinks surprisingly quickly. This also happens to be the optimum moment when you will catch the strongest shots, yet it can come and go in an instant. Be prepared—make sure all your settings are in place well before this time.

sunset landscape

“The Giants Causeway” captured by PictureSocial member Paul Holmes

When the sun has disappeared, it doesn’t mean you should. For another thirty minutes or so, there can often be some amazing color across the sky, so keep looking for more opportunities for great photos.

beach sunset

“Untitled” captured by PictureSocial member Gary L. Lopez

I hope this step-by-step sunset guide for beginning photographers has been helpful and that you can catch some beautiful sunset photos in the future. They truly are wonderful shots to look back on.

About the Author
Paul Summers ( is from Photography Course Online.

Like This Article?

Don't Miss The Next One!

Join over 100,000 photographers of all experience levels who receive our free photography tips and articles to stay current:


  1. Norman Silva says:

    You make the following statement..”Many compact cameras have a setting for sunsets, yet DSLRs don’t”.

    Both my Nikon D5100 and D610 have “sunset settings” which I shoot in RAW.

  2. Michael says:

    I’m afraid I am in a dumb mode. What about exposure settings? I enjoy your article, but I am a bit confused. Thanks…M.

  3. Janeen says:

    Is this article for Canon users because I don’t have a “star” on the back of my Nikon. The basic information was somewhat helpful but I felt it was not detailed enough or provided info for various cameras. Perhaps because they want you to buy the ebook?

  4. Mali John says:

    My Olympus PEN E-PL3 has a SUNSET setting as well but there are times when I prefer to shoot sunsets and sunrises manually.

  5. Arni says:

    Great Guide Paul. Thank You

Leave a Comment

Personalize your comment with an avatar from!

Prove Your Humanity * Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.

New! Want more photography tips? We now offer a free newsletter for photographers:

No, my photos are the best, close this forever