Sunset Portrait Photography Tips : 7 Tips to grab the perfect sunset portrait

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Sunset portrait photography is a skill that can’t be mastered overnight. It’s often overlooked because sunset time doesn’t last long enough to capture the perfect sunset portrait.

The sun sets too quickly for you to get your camera settings just right and take some stunning sunset portraits with friends and family.

However, by the end of this post , you’re sure to master this art. So what are you waiting for? Grab your camera and let’s get started!

What is a sunset portrait ?

A sunset portrait is a type of sunset photography that also includes the human element. The sunset becomes the backdrop of the portrait. The colors and hues that come to life during sunset are what make sunset portraits so entrancing.

It’s no surprise why taking sunset portraits are becoming more popular today. People love capturing their most treasured moments with friend or family member for years to come, and sunset portraits can certainly help them accomplish this.

Shooting portraits at sunset can be real fun as well and you can have a good time with your family and friends. If you are preparing a portfolio then this is also a great addition to it.

What is sunset portrait

How to take portraits at sunset ?

Sunset portraits are generally taken just before the sunset when you have the most beautiful lighting conditions. With sunset in background the subject may need to be lit by using a reflector or fill flash to get the right exposure.

You need to plan in advance as you have very little time in hand. Selecting the right gear , right settings and right location is the key.

Of course sometimes you can get to a location where you see an amazing sunset but you do not have your camera with you. You can always use your phone for taking taking sunset portraits. You can take as good sunset portrait with an iphone as you would with a DSLR or mirrorless camera.

It is a difficult art to master but once you get it right , the results are amazing !

Sunset portrait photography tips

It’s sunset time! Grab your camera and let’s get started with sunset portrait photography tips. It takes a lot of practice to become a sunset portrait photographer. But these tips will help you learn this skill quickly. So what are you waiting for? Let’s start!

Tip 1 # Find Your Spot

You need to find the right spot where there is enough light so your subject isn’t too dark or too light. Try looking for open areas like a field or a sunset hill where there’s an unobstructed view.

golden hour sunset portrait

Tip 2 # Be Patient to chose the right moment

It takes time to find that perfect sunset portrait photography spot. Don’t rush and be patient. The perfect sunset time only lasts a few minutes so its always better to find the right spot and setup the shot before the sunset happens.

Patience is also important when you want to capture some candid moments. Candid photographs at sunset even better appeal to the viewers.

Candid Sunset portrait

Tip 3 # West Is Best

If you want to take pictures of people at the time of sunset, then try taking them towards the west direction. The sunset is best captured when the sun is to your back. In some cases model slightly tilted with the face getting all the golden hour natural sunlight also gives best results. Sometimes shooting during the civil twilight after the subset can also give some stunning results.

sunset portrait

Tip 4 # Use A Tripod

If your sunset portraiture photo isn’t turning out the way you want it to, try using a tripod. If your sunset portrait is too dark or the subject is not coming out sharp, then use a tripod to prevent camera shake.

However do not go too slow on shutter speed as even a small movement from the subject can ruin the photograph at slow shutter speeds.

Tip 5 # Lighting Is Everything

Your model should be well lit against the sunset background. If the subject is standing in front of a sunset hill or field, then there’s going to be enough natural sunlight for them so you don’t have to worry about lighting.

However, if you’d like additional light sources such as flashlights or street lamps, use those as fill lights for added glow! In some cases if you expose the image for background , the subject may appear to be very dark.

sunset portrait lighting

Fill flash light or reflector will help to brighten up the subject while still maintaining the rightly exposed sunset. Remember to use histogram to check and ensure that nothing in the image is overexposed.

You can always underexpose things little bit and recover details in the shadows. But if you overexpose, you can never get the highlight details back.

Tip 6 # Shoot sunset portraits with the sunset as your backdrop

Identifying and framing the sunset portrait background properly is really important.

Don’t forget to shoot sunset portraits with the sunset as your backdrop. Your sunset portrait will stand out with sunset backdrops instead of plain old backgrounds. The golden back light giving a nice halo around the subject gives amazing results.

Tall grass , hills behind , light coming through trees , sea or beach can be used as sunset portrait background.

You can even try to get some lens flare by using some an old uncoated lens to create a dramatic effect.

Sunset portrait lens flare

Tip 7 # Shoot wide open for sunset portraits

If you are using a lens that lets in enough light then use it at its widest aperture (smallest number). For example, if you are using a lens that has f/2.8, then open it up all the way to take sunset portrait photos.

Using a prime lens such as Canon 50 mm 1.4 or 1.8 will give you better quality pictures but some of the zoom lenses are also good and they can give you more flexibility to frame without changing the lens frequently. Time is essence while shooting sunset portraits and changing lens can be time consuming.

This will produce an out-of-focus sunset background and make your subject pop! In case you have too bright images with wide aperture , then you can always use ND filter to get the right exposure. You can easily drop upto 6 F stops with a ND filter.

Sunset portrait photography

That’s it! Follow these sunset portrait photography tips and you’ll be well on your way to becoming sunset portrait photographer in no time.

Apart from this the camera settings for sunset portraits are important. Lets get into some details about those.

Sunset portrait photography settings

You can use the following sunset portrait camera settings a starting point. You can always adjust based on the location and what you are trying to shoot.

Exposure mode Manual or aperture priority mode. Set the aperture wide for shallow depth of field , set the aperture narrow to include background elements in your portrait.
Focus modeAuto focus mode with focus points on the subject. For portraits , eye of the model must be in accurate focus.
Shutter speedMinimum 1/30sec or faster. Anything lower tends to blur the subject as models do tend to move and you need to have fast enough shutter speed to avoid motion blur.
ApertureUse widest possible aperture for out of focus sunset portrait. If you want the sunset and scene behind the model also to be in focus then use something like F11 to F16.
ISO100 or lower. Use the lowest ISO possible to get the highest quality images.
Image formatI always recommend shooting in RAW format to get maximum out of your images in postprocessing. Sunset photographs always need and have a lot of postprocessing potential, so always shoot in RAW
Image styleUse neutral if you are shooting RAW. For JPEG using Vivid or standard will work best as it will pop out the vibrant colors during sunset.
Drive modeSingle-shot or even burst mode can also be used if you are getting fast enough shutter speed. In most cases single shot will work well though.
White balanceUse Daylight while shooting , you can always correct it in postprocessing if you are shooting RAW images , so nothing to worry about.
Sunset portrait photography settings

How to take sunset portraits with iPhone?

Taking sunset portraits with iphone is not easy due to lack of control over the camer settings. Best way to use a PRO camera app that can give you DSLR like camera controls.
You should be able to set the exposure , shutter speed and focus yourself. Apart from this turning off auto HDR and using a tripod is also very good idea.
Apart from this most other tips above will also help to take great sunset portraits with iphone.

Final Words : Sunset portrait photography

Sunset portraits can make some really long lasting memories. The golden hour light turns any image into a beautiful one.

Get the the basics right such as location , settings , lighting and you are good to go. As always in photography more photos you click , better you become. So just go ahead grab your camera and get started.

Fortunately sunset happens every day !