How to Photograph a Sunset

Sunsets are beautiful. If you don’t love them, something is wrong with you and you might as well get off my blog. On second thought, if something is wrong with you, maybe this blog is exactly for you. In any case, I’ll teach you how to take beautiful photos of a sunset today.

1. Find a good location.

Nature is usually better than a city because the sun sets on the horizon and buildings tend to get in the way of your view. I will use an example from my time in Malta to illustrate the search for a perfect spot. Malta is an island and the sun will set in the West. By going to the West coast of the island, I will see the sun setting in the sea, with no buildings or any other obstacles or distractions between the ball of fire and my camera.

So I went to the West coast of Malta and found a peaceful and beautiful spot. I went to the coast south of Il-Majjistral Nature Park, at Għajn Tuffieħa.

Għajn Tuffieħa Bay Malta

You see that I got there with plenty of time until sunset. That’s important. You want to have time to walk around and find a good and comfortable spot where you can sit or lay down with your camera – or set up your tripod if you have more equipment than me. By the way, this is also where I saw the paraglider.

2. Find the sun.

If the sky is clear, that’s easy. The sun is the big shiny round thing in the sky.

Malta sunset 1

You see it? Hard to miss, you have to admit.

3. Take photos of the sun.

You may have learned to never take photos directly into the sun. That is usually true. I always have to cringe when I see people photograph other people against the sun. It won’t work. But today, it’s exception day because in order to photograph a sunset, you have to expose your camera directly to the sun until the very last moment in which it will drop behind the waterline. (Although you can also get beautiful impressions by using the last glows of the sun and their reflection on other objects, like here or here. Or you can use the sunset as a backdrop to something more dramatic, like here, but that is neither the mission of the day, nor can you predict when the waves will be that strong. )

Malta sunset 2

Malta sunset 3

As you see, I was actually moving around between different locations, in violation of my previously given advice (which, in my defence, I had not yet given by the time I was doing this). I personally can do that because I am really fast and because I can move smoothly like a gazelle even in hostile terrain. You probably can’t do that, so you better stick to one location.

Malta sunset 4Some clouds are not that bad. Even more clouds would have been OK, as they often add a dramatic touch. And notice how I picked a spot from where the rock in the sea is in one line with the mirrored light of the sun. That’s how you recognize a professional.

Malta sunset 5 plants

Malta sunset 6

Malta sunset 7These last photos again show how much I was running around between different spots to get different compositions. It was exhausting.

And then comes the moment when the sun touches the horizon and it looks like it sinks into the Mediterranean Sea.

Malta sunset 8You only have a few minutes now, so just keep shooting.

Malta sunset 9

Malta sunset 10

Malta sunset 11

Malta sea after sunset

That’s it. A beautiful end to a warm day in spring.

4. Return home.

Now comes the part which I myself had completely disregarded in my typically exuberant excitement: Once the sun has set, you have a maximum of 30 minutes of natural light left (unless there is moonlight, which in my case wasn’t available). If you live in a city or in fact anywhere close to civilization, you may not know how dark it can get after sunset, but I can tell you: it gets completely dark. I had forgotten to bring a torchlight. So much about the professionalism which I had claimed before.

Those of you have been hiking with me know that I am good in finding “shortcuts”. I wanted to find one that day as well, because I don’t like walking back the same way I had come. Bad idea. I ended up walking through gardens and fields, was chased by dogs and hunters, fell into cacti and in the end I fell into the ruins of an excavated Roman bath. From there, I could finally climb the fence to get onto the road where the bus which I tried to stop almost hit me, again for lack of any light on my part. I came home a few hours later, totally exhausted, but happy. Both the shower and the dinner felt better than usual.

About Andreas Moser

Travelling the world and writing about it. I have degrees in law and philosophy, but I'd much rather be a writer, a spy or a hobo.
This entry was posted in Malta, Photography, Travel and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

30 Responses to How to Photograph a Sunset

  1. Pingback: Paraglider defies Icarus’ Lesson | The Happy Hermit

  2. You know? You almost had me saying “What a professional!”
    Then you fell into the Roman bath. ;)
    Depending on the genius of your camera (or lack thereof), some systems get twitchy trying to autofocus on somethinglike the sun. Go manual if you can; otherwise, you can aim off to one side of the sun, get an “infinity lock-on”, then use those settings. If you use roll film (good GRIEF, how old IS this guy?!?), either have two camera bodies or be near the end of a “general purpose” roll of ASA200 or ASA400, and have a roll of high-speed ready (I shoot ASA1600, though I have used ASA3200) for shots after the sun slips below the horizon, but you still have a TEENY bit of light.
    And bring a flashlight. You never know where those excavations are hiding! ;)

  3. Robert Passig says:

    Pretty awesome photographs! A magnificent subject does not mean a great photo. Early photographers sought out the specific sites and waited. Those photos, and yours show a connection to place. Thanks for the images.

  4. Rachel says:

    I would entrust my hypothetical children to you. You’ve brought your earned insight to sunsetography, a pastime that sounds deceptively simple but in fact requires both planning and skill, and covered all the bases. Points #2 and #3 are especially delightful. Thanks for your visit on The Ambler, Andreas — you undoubtedly found some kindred sentiments in Ben’s sunset slideshow from Isla Palenque. Hope you’ll visit again.

  5. storygal says:

    Appreciated your pictures and ideas. Next time you’ll have the flashlight for sure.

    • Yes, I am trying to be better equipped now when I venture outside. It still doesn’t work all the time, because I sometimes go out with my camera in a spur of the moment, usually when I notice that the light is great. And then every minute counts.

  6. Pingback: My 2012 in Photos – A WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge « Life in the Foothills

  7. Your first picture is amazing!!! It looks like a painting… love, love the deep blue, from the waters!
    Greetings from La Paz, Bolivia, and wishes for a joyful and peaceful year of 2013! :o

  8. nuvofelt says:

    Stunning. I’d like to reblog, would you mind?

  9. kockajäveln says:

    Beautiful photos!! And blog. Do you have instagram?

    • No, I don’t. I always try to prevent signing up to something new and try to drag it out as long as possible. Also, I think you need one of these fancy phones for this, right? I don’t even have that.

  10. frizztext says:

    my favorite: Malta sunset no. 11

  11. Anastassia says:

    Loved the pictures and as usually the way you wrote about it, I was all smiles while sitting in the office)). Wishing many beautiful sunset shoots in 2013!

  12. Naia says:

    I was in Malta back in 1998. Beautiful place. I only wish I had the foresight to appreciate it at the time. Should have taken more pictures…

    • Especially because there were still the beautiful colourful buses in 1998, something I missed. And hopefully there was also a little bit less of construction. At the current rate, the whole island will soon be built over.

    • Naia says:

      That’s sad. It really is sad when people think progress means killing off the natural beauty of a place.

    • Naia says:

      P.S. My apologies. Your pictures are stunning!

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  15. Kavita Joshi says:

    good post..I loved the last point a lot and think it would have been beneficial if i had read that before my adventure in the jungle ;)

  16. Pingback: Enjoy the Sunset! | The Happy Hermit

  17. Harri says:

    I spat my drink out when reading “I am really fast and because I can move smoothly like a gazelle even in hostile terrain.” Its true though, I am a terrible clutz, so when I photographed the sunset from the same area, I plonked down in one spot and didn’t get too close to the edge!

    The pictures are just stunning, I had a great time doing this too :)

    Also, does it make me a bad person that I chortled at the falling into a roman bath?

  18. Pingback: Sunset at the Curonian Spit | The Happy Hermit

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