Taking pictures of sunsets (and sunrises) is relatively easy and super fun to do. To take those tasty sunset photos one sees in travel magazines and postcards, just adhere to these five easy rules.

A sunset photo with interesting foreground and mid-ground elements

Make sure the photograph includes a strong point of interest in the foreground or mid-ground. 

Taking a picture of the sun setting with nothing but an ocean and beach in the mid or foreground lacks interest. The viewer has nothing to lock onto when they gaze upon the photo. Try to have something in the foreground or mid-ground like a boat, a dock, an interesting rock formation, driftwood or maybe an interesting tree.

Having something in the foreground with the sun in the background will immediately draw the attention of the viewer and become an additional focal point of the image.

Bracket Your Images

Often, we’re shooting that focal point in the foreground in silhouette but at times, it’s better to show some detail beyond the silhouette. Use spot metering and take your reading from the object in the foreground than take 5 exposures ranging from 2 stops underexposed to 2 stops overexposed, -2, -1, 0, +1, +2.

You’re doing this for two reasons. Foremost, sunsets that are slightly underexposed tend to have richer color and more interesting skies.

The other reason is that sometimes things in the foreground look better and more interesting if a little detail and color comes through so opening up one or two stops can benefit the foreground.

Bracketing your shot means you’re covering all your bases. Perhaps the shot looks better with a more detailed sky and dark foreground or, maybe the image will look better with a detailed foreground. You’ll have five images to choose from or, if you have rudimentary photoshop skills, you can blend the images to get the best of both worlds.

You don’t always want to shoot in silhouette. At times you’ll like to have some foreground detail So bracket your images

Take Your Camera Out Of Auto White Balance Mode

With Auto White Balance your camera will try to neutralize the light. In doing so, it will eliminate many of the warm tasty tones you’re hoping to record. Switch the white balance to shade or cloudy and your camera will warm everything up. Alternatively you can try switching to incandescent or fluorescent to get some different colors. Better yet, make sure you shoot in RAW mode and adjust the white balance in post using Adobe Lightroom or a similar program.

Turn off Auto-White Balance. Use Shade and Cloudy to warm up the colors. Try incandescent or tungsten to cool them off.

Don’t Neglect To Apply Some Rules Of Composition

Most pictures will look better if basic rules of composition are applied and this includes our obligatory sunset/sunrise photo. Try using leading lines, the rule of thirds or framing to help make your picture pop!

Apply basic rules of composition to strengthen the image such as leading lines, the rule of thirds, and framing.

Stay Until Long After The Sun Has Sunk Below The Horizon

Sometimes the most dramatic light occurs when the sun has fully set below the horizon. Be aware that this light is fleeting. It may only be glowing for a few seconds so be ready with your camera. Stay and keep shooting until the sky goes dark.

Sometimes magic happens when the sun sinks completely below the horizon.

That’s it! Do those five simple things and you’ll be taking great sunset and sunrise photos that will always elicit those ooh’s and ahh’s.