7 Ways to Avoid a Cliche Sunset Photo

Just admit it — you can’t help yourself from taking sunset photos. We all do it. The problem is that (since we all do it) sunset photos can be extremely cliche. So when the sun starts going down, you’ve got to think outside the box to get unique photos. Here are some tips to get your creative juices flowing.

Be sure to read the note at the end of the post!


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1. GO WIDE

While you might be tempted to whip out that super-telephoto lens and get up close on the sun as it goes below the horizon, you might consider going the opposite direction with your lens choice. The sky is pretty big and sunsets can cover a large portion of it. My lens of choice is the Sigma 10-20mm pulled all the way back to 10mm. This gives me over 100 degrees angle of view and it makes for some stunning landscapes and sunsets.

Sunset Flames

2. GET COLORFUL

Sure, sunsets can be really colorful and great on their own, but they can often look the same (especially when you live in an area with very infrequent cloud cover). My solution: shoot some slide film and get it cross processed. The blueish-green photo was shot with Velvia 50 while the pinkish-purple one was shot with Velvia 100.

Darkness Creeps In

Purple Skies

3. WAIT AROUND

If you’re with a group of photographers you’ll hear the shutters rev-up just as the sun begins to cross the horizon — this is when the colors are most obvious to our eyes. But wait around for another 10 or 20 minutes and shoot some long exposure stuff with a tripod. Even though you can’t see the colors, they’re still hanging around. After the sun sets, the upper sky will tend to turn a deep blue, almost purple.

Another Day Ends

4. TAKE TWO

Play around with double exposures and see what you can come up with. If you’re shooting digital, you could probably come up with all sorts of ways to combine your sunset photos to create alien landscapes. If you’re shooting film, just remember that areas of shadow will show the double image more strongly.

Alien Sunset

5. TURN AROUND

We’re programmed to shoot right into the sun at sunset — that’s usually where the fun stuff is happening. But take a second, peel the camera away from your face, and look around. Maybe that sunset is creating a brilliant lighting situation right behind you.

Colors of the Canyon

6. USE PROPS

Take the ramp, bike, and board out of this photo and you now have a beach sunset pic that looks just like 50% of every beach sunset photo ever taken. Look for things to place in the foreground in order to add more interest to the scene.

End of the Watch

7. FORGET THE COLORS

Sunset photos are generally known for their great colors, but sometimes pulling the color out can make the photo a better one. Focus on lines and shadows while you’re shooting the sunset, in addition to the other black and white photography tips.

Into The Sea
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Post your own sunset tips and photos in the comments! I’d love to see some tip/photo combos down in the comments. You can use the “img” hmtl tag to display images or click on the link below the comment box if you’re unfamiliar with html (please limit the photos to 500px or smaller). After the comments slow down, I’ll pick out some reader tips and photos for a follow-up post!

[UPDATE]: I’ve posted a follow-up article on this topic highlighting all the great sunset photos and tips from the readers — check it out! Definitely worth the read!