Sunsets - Day 1 - Sunset Basics :: Digital Photo Secrets

Sunsets - Day 1 - Sunset Basics

by David Peterson 3 comments

Welcome to the Photography Dash on Sunsets!

I'm excited to be sharing the next month with you on the Photography Dash. We're going to be perfecting taking perfect sunsets with your camera!

Are you excited? Let's start!

We will go through today's topics and timing first, then I'll explain how you can upload your masterpiece to the Dash community and get feedback. For more general information on the Photography Dash, please see Getting Started with the Dash

Sunsets Topic List

Here is a list of all the topics we'll be covering in this stream of the Dash. With each topic, you'll get a photographic challenge to complete. The challenges will start easy, but I'll make them a little harder as the month progresses.

  • Apr 1: Sunset Photography Basics
  • Apr 5: How to slightly underexpose for more vibrant colors
  • Apr 10: The perfect components of your Sunset image
  • Apr 13: Bracketing
  • Apr 17: Silhouettes
  • Apr 20: What modes to use for each phase of sunset
  • Apr 24: Turn Around!
  • Apr 27: Shoot in RAW / or HDR; Panoramas

Never Look Directly At The Sun

I couldn't start this Dash without an important safety tip: Never look directly at the sun unless it's almost set below the horizon. The recommended way to compose your shot is to use your camera's screen. Never use the viewfinder as the camera's lens can concentrate the sun's rays.

How To Maximize Your Sunset Dash

For most of this Dash, you'll be taking your images are either sunset or sunrise. That limitation means you only have two opportunities per day, so this Dash will require some extra planning.

If you are participating in the Landscapes dash as well, sunsets/sunrise is an excellent time to take landscape photos too, so you can kill two birds with the one stone!

Back to Sunsets - some days, you won't be able to see the sun because it's raining or you have a lot of cloud cover.

So I recommend you do a bit of forward planning. Check your local forecast for a sunny or partly cloudy day, as well as the time of sunset. If the conditions are favorable, set your alarm so you don't forget! You'll have 3-4 days between each new challenge to find a sunset... but you can also complete two challenges at the same time one evening.

Also be aware that because we are close to the equinox, the time of sunset/sunrise will change quite a bit during the course of the month.

Sunset Apps

Later in the month, I'll be asking you to include other elements in your sunset like foreground elements, or reflecting objects. So it helps to know from what direction the sun will be rising/setting. I use an excellent app called Photo Ephemeris. It's available for both iPhone and Android phones and provides the sunset/sunrise time as well as the location in the sky on a map so you can see if there are any hills (or city towers) in the way. The app costs around $5, but is well worth the money.

Consider Sunrise

While I'll mostly use the term "Sunset" in this course, everything applies to sunrises as well. In fact, because the atmosphere is cool, sometimes sunrises create a better photograph than sunsets can. If you find you miss the time of sunset a lot, try getting up a little early and catch the sunrise.

Today's Topic: Sunset Basics

Today, we're going to cover the foundations of photographing sunsets with your camera - what mode to use, equipment and composition. Don't worry about taking it all in today. We'll cover each step in much more detail during the month.

Article - Sunset Basics (read only this if you are short on time today)

Article - How To Sunset Photography
Article - How To Photograph Sunsets (Digital Photography School)
Article - Photograph a Sunset (Wikihow)

Gallery - Outstanding Sunsets - Look here to see some of the sunsets you'll likely be creating at the end of this course!

Essar Steel by Flickr user Billy Wilson Photography

Sunset Basics Challenge

Your first photo challenge is an easy one... Take a sunset photo using the tips described in the top article above. It doesn't matter what the composition of your image is for this first challenge. And don't worry too much if you can't get the colors right either. We'll talk about both those in the next two topics. It also doesn't matter if there are lots of clouds, or no clouds. The aim for today is for you to start learning what settings your camera needs, and some of the common problems sunset photographers face.

You should be able to complete this challenge in less than 30 minutes.

Upload your best photo to the Sunset Basics Dash. Please, upload only your best photo. The deadline for uploading your photo is 1 week- April 9th, although there is no penalty for uploading late (or not uploading an image at all).

What Happens Next

Although you have a week to complete the challenge for each topic, it's better to to complete the challenge and upload your photo sooner rather than later. I'll be selecting four photos from the list of those that have been uploaded for a critique by one of our coaches. I'll share that critique with everyone. So to increase the chances of your image being selected, upload your challenge image quickly.

I'll send your next topic on the best landscape subjects on Saturday/Friday Night via email. From that point on, we'll have two topics 'on the go' for the rest of the Dash. After this week, I'll always send new topics on Thursday/Wednesday Night and Sunday/Saturday Night.

If you haven't done so already, I recommend you get involved with Dash Insider - our private community. See your email for the password to access this system, and I have created a few videos showing you how to login and navigate the site.

How to Upload Your Photo

See the third video on the Dash Insider Login Tutorials page for a rundown on how to upload.

Receiving A Great Critique

See the separate post on giving and receiving feedback for help on soliciting great feedback on your images.

Note: If you have purchased the Gold or Platinum upgrade, you'll automatically receive feedback on your images by a professional photographer.

For more general information about the Dash, see the Getting Started document.

I'm excited to see what you create!

[ Top image Golden Gate Bridge sunset moment by Flickr user davidyuweb]


  1. Mary Whipple says:

    Hi David:

    Thank you for all your wonderful tips! Just wondering, can we include Sunrises in this dash?

    • David says:

      Hi Mary,

      Absolutely, yes!

      As I said above: While Ill mostly use the term Sunset in this course, everything applies to sunrises as well. In fact, because the atmosphere is cool, sometimes sunrises create a better photograph than sunsets can. If you find you miss the time of sunset a lot, try getting up a little early and catch the sunrise.


  2. Linda Bonskowski says:

    David I've read most of the info here, but can't seem to find the trick to shooting a sunset that looks as though it has star points surrounding it. What's the trick? Filter, clouds, exposure, pure dumb luck.......??? I don't know what that is called, so I have been unsuccessful in finding anything regarding this online. I hope I described it sufficiently so you understand the type of shot I mean. If not, I'll see if I can locate a picture with this type of sunset.


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