a line of travelers stand on the beach looking at the setting sun

An Easy Gamechanger for Stunning Sunset Photography

Today’s photography can get pretty complicated. The cameras are getting fancier and the post-processing and editing software is infinitely capable, but also infinitely complex.

It’s nice when you come across a technique to quickly and easily elevate your photography, and that’s what I’m bringing you today.  An effortless way to instantly improve your sunset photography no matter where in the world you are.

a colorful sunset in Baja California

For starters, you’ll need to make sure you are on any camera setting other than full auto. If you only shoot on full-auto, you can switch over to “P” mode, which still is fully automatic in nearly every way, but gives you the capability I’m about to tell you here.

Simply put, if you want to make any sunset (or sunrise for that matter!) really pop with color and dramatic texture, underexpose your photo. By underexposing, you are darkening the photo, which brings out the colors tremendously in the sky.

I generally start by underexposing by one full stop, but am quick to experiment with -2 or -3 three stops as well.  Keep in mind, each dot on your exposure compensation meter is 1/3 of a stop, so you’ll have to move your exposure compensation three clicks to reach one full stop.

If you haven’t practiced with exposure compensation before, this is a great time to learn.  I’m going to break it down for you, but you also may want to consult your camera’s manual, or simply search online for “exposure compensation for your camera name” and you can often find easy written or video tutorials.

But let’s give it a try here on a very general stepwise process.

First, now that you’re on P mode on the top dial, you’ll want to locate your exposure compensation button. It usually looks like the icon below and might be on the top or back of the camera.

Now, press the button and find your camera’s back circle dial.  It usually is a dial on the back of your camera, but with some models it might be four buttons (up, down, left, right) oriented in a circle.

Next, while still holding the exposure button, dial that wheel counterclockwise and look at the screen of your camera…you should notice the marker on the exposure setting go toward the negative side.  If it’s going to the positive side, simply switch your rotation to clockwise and keep dialing until you reach -1, -2, or -3.

Next, go ahead and take the shot just as you always would!  I personally like to find some unique foreground elements, like the mountain range you see here in Baja California.

a stunning orange sunset in Baja lights the sky

But the beauty of this technique is that really anything can become a compelling foreground element, because the underexposing forces a silhouette.

a line of travelers stand on the beach looking at the setting sun

This technique really lends itself well to creativity, so experiment and have fun with it!

a woman cups the sun in her hands as it descends for the night

And there you have it!  A simple tip, but oh so fun and oh so effective for creating unique and colorful sunset photos. It can truly open up a new world of possibilities!  If you are headed to some of the great places around the world for sunset photography, give this a go and see if it changes the game for you, too!


Court Whelan Signature