Is a Sunset Really the Easiest Subject?


Is a Sunset Really the Easiest Subject?

The prejudice is often quite true that a picture on Instagram with a sunset or sunrise gets more likes than other subjects.
But why is that?

People are fascinated by the multitude of colors. No other natural phenomenon offers such a variety in colors and is unique every time.
But is it really so easy to photograph this subject? Most people would probably say ‘yes’. And I say: no.

Mistake number 1: Oftentimes we photograph straight into the blazing sun, which results in a picture with too much glare and a background that is too shadowy.

As in this picture here:


Mistake number 2: Overexposure.

It is obvious here that there is not much to see of the sun. The picture is overexposed at this point and a white spot is the result.


Mistake number 3: Waiting until the sun has gone down. It is too dark. Here, the background is simply too dark and the picture loses its effect.


This type of picture is usually the result of using a normal smartphone to photograph straight into the light. As you can see, it’s not that easy. Those pictures that always look so beautiful and perfect, do need a bit more time and effort than expected.

So how do I achieve one of those spectacular sunsets? With lots of different colors and a sharp foreground?


Option 1: Don’t photograph directly into the sun, or just before the sun actually sets. The sky often has fantastic color development until the sun has truly set.

I always try to let the sun disappear to the right or to the left, as you can see in the picture here, and aim to only have a small amount of the sun’s yellow flow into the picture.
Option 2: Use an app (Snapseed) or a picture editing program (Lightromm) to lighten the shadow a bit. Here is an example:

Before editing:

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After editing the shadows: These were brightened a bit. With the use of Lightromm it is possible to select a particular detail and edit only that.


A more elaborate method would be to work with several exposures.
This means that I take an individual picture of the light, dark, and normal parts of the picture and then combine them into one.

Picture 1 photographs the foreground.


Picture 2 photographs the sun.


Picture 3 than photographs the background (in this case the sky).


The three shots then have to be combined. You could do this, for example, by using Photomatix Pro. This process is also knows as HDR. By simply taking photos of a series of several exposures and combining them, you are creating a High Dynamic Range picture (HDR).

The end result might look like this:


After a few attempts, editing also doesn’t take more than 5 to 10 minutes.

And this leads us to a final question..

Can I achieve the desired results with a smartphone or is it only possible with a camera?

In principle, I would need a small tripod for the smartphone so that it is still and I can effectively take 2-3 identical pictures (you may want to set a timer for this). Every phone has a small focus in the picture which you can adjust. I can use it to focus on the sun initially, then on the foreground, and finally on the background.

So, even if some people still think that these spectacular sunsets are quick and simple to photograph, they might find now that there is quite a bit to keep in mind after all.

Sylvia Matzkowiak


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