Beginner's guides to digital SLR Photography

Taking photos of sunsets

When you take a picture of a sunset you generally want the sky to come out right rather than the ground. It’s easy to make sure that happens.

Sydney sunset

You need to work quickly in a sunset, because the really best colours might only last a minute or two.

Sometimes when you take a photo of a sunset, your camera sets its exposure for the things on the land instead of the colours in the sky. The result is a drab, overexposed shot with all the sky bleached white and the land looking almost as bad.

I’ll point out here that I’m talking about the kind of vividly coloured sunsets that happen after the sun has dipped just behind the horizon. Everything on the ground will therefore be in shadow and the only things being hit by light are the clouds high in the sky.

You need a way to ensure that sky comes out correctly exposed to show off all its drama, even if it means the ground ends up very dark.

Shutter speed priority

We start by making sure the weak light doesn’t make your camera leave the shutter open for ages. So switch your camera to shutter speed priority mode (sometimes called time value priority mode) and select a shutter speed fast enough to avoid camera shake blur. Even though it sounds kind of fast, I usually go for something like 200th second.


Most of the time, it’s the colour of the sky that makes us want to photograph a sunset. So it’s the sky that we want to be correctly exposed.

And now the important bit

Here’s where you set your camera to expose correctly for the sky.

First aim your camera right into the most colourful part of the sky and press your shutter button half-way down and keep the button held half-way down. Why are you doing that? Because when the shutter button goes half-way down the camera figures out the exposure settings — and because you’re aiming at the best part of the sky then the exposure is being set for the best part of the sky. Keeping that shutter button held half-way down from that moment on locks those exposure settings in.

So you should still be holding that shutter button half-way down while you do this next step: change where you point the camera to compose your shot. When you have the composition you like then squeeze the shutter button the rest of the way down to take your photo.

The land will most likely go almost black in your photo but the sky should come out looking every bit as colourful as the real thing.


Beginners’ guides to digital SLR photography


Before you start


The essential basics


Making sense of technical stuff

Photography words

Photography words explained


Sneaky stuff


Common problems and their solutions

Preying mantis

Taking things further


Photography at night

Other photography stuff

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