The best shots of the sunset often happen after everyone else has packed up their equipment and begun walking away.
In a moment, photographer Paul Reiffer looks over his shoulder, notices bright pink hues streaking across the sky, and knows he’s found his money shot. “When you’re done clicking,” he says, “you just turn around and have a look. You might find something even better behind you.”
Capturing the setting sun is challenging for even the best photographers: The light and the colors are in constant flux. The contrast of the bright sun against the dimming sky creates an environment ripe for overexposure, which can make everything around the sun too dark to make out. The “white balance,” the way your camera interprets the color white in your photos, is completely out of whack.
“The worst-case scenario for any camera is huge contrast,” says Reiffer, a UK-based landscape photographer. “If you’re shooting that bright ball of flaming gas, that’s exactly what you’ve got.” Because most cameras are designed to make the color white look neutral, this warmer light can wash out other colors at sunset, wiping out valuable details.
The physics of light are everything when it comes to the sunset. As the light changes, it bounces off of objects – even particles in the air.
To get the best shots, aim for what the pros call “golden hour” – that 30-minute window just before or after the sun leaves the sky and it erupts with color and shadow. Once the sun drops to about two degrees off the horizon, it will turn orange, but before then, it will reflect off any moisture or particles in the air. Look for high, scattered clouds to provide plenty of particles for reflecting light to bounce from at different angles and distances, creating a range of hues.
Of course, the complexities of capturing the setting sun are made easier when your camera does much of the work for you. Pro-level lenses and computational photography features in
Pixel phones help you get the best shots by using “optical flow” technology, in which the camera takes many pictures and uses that group of images to get the greatest exposure in dimming light. This feature, which includes
Advanced editing tools such as the ones in Google Photos allow you to improve the image further, and the super fast Google Tensor chip in Pixel means all of these things can happen quickly right on your phone, instead of in the cloud, a slower process.
Pixel users are finding their camera captures the setting sun like the pros. Here’s how three of them did it:
Compared to main rear camera on Pixel 5.