Please Don't Shoot the Sunset


 After the storm on Sunday, I went down to the beach for a walk. I didn’t intend to shoot, but I always carry my camera with me, anyway. As I walked along, I saw the local camera club pile onto the beach 20+ strong, with tripods in hand, and obligatory camera vest and hats. So I stopped to watch them. 






There is a beautiful long pier on this beach that extends out into the ocean. I was standing on the north side of the pier, and I noticed that they were all on the south side. As the sun got lower in the horizon, I looked at the beautiful light that started to illuminate the pier and the clouds behind it, and I was glad I brought my camera. But then I thought to myself, "I am on this side of the pier and I see all this great light, but they're on the opposite side. Can that same great light still be there?" So I walked over, and sure enough, they were all staring into the sun—no great light, just a big black silhouette of a pier!


Don’t get me wrong. I have shot my fair share of sunsets. In fact, since I started using HDRI I find that I'm shooting more and more sunsets just because I am able to finally tame the dynamic range that prevented such shots before. BUT, when people shoot the sunset, they may be missing the real show behind them. DON’T SHOOT THE SUNSET, SHOOT WHAT THE SUNSET ILLUMINATES. 


We get up early or wait all day for the beautiful light that sunrise or sunset produces during the “Golden Hour”, but then we don’t take advantage of that beautiful light—and what it illuminates.


Next time you are out during those golden hours, take your body and face the sun, now turn yourself 180 degrees and look what is behind you, turn your head left and right. Now isn’t that beautiful?


Now, as the sun came closer to the horizon, the Photo Club all took up position, some on the beach, some on the pier. Tripods set, zoom lenses zoomed, and they shot—the sunset.


shooting the sunset



I wanted to yell, “Hey look over here!—look this way!” But I really hate to tell people how to shoot if they don’t ask. So I let it go. But as they all shot west, I shot north and south and got this:







Sunsets are mesmerizing—every evening millions watch them with awe. Just don’t get so mesmerized that you miss the real things to shoot. Find the light!

For more about Photography Basics download my new Ebook, "How to take Great Photos", available from Rockable Press


Galen Rowell is sitting on a cloud somewhere, smiling.

Very good point, well expressed, and fine photos.  Thanks.

Wow!  Beautifully written & beautiful pictures to back up what you are saying.  Simply breathtaking! 


It makes perfect sense not to fire your camera right at the light source, but rather, at what the source is illuminating. It's a basic principle of photography, no? I mean, my photojournalist father taught me that when I was seven and he gave me my Brownie Holiday camera.

Thanks for the poignant reminder and the very strong images.

great advice to people. we finally learned this too.

Right on!!! Thanks for this great post.

Great advice and great pictures to prove it.