Sunset Photo Tips for Lake Michigan

West Michigan is known for sunsets. Here are some tips to take the best possible sunset photos when you're visiting Lake Michigan (or anywhere!)

DSLR Cameras

With a Digital Single Lens Reflex camera (DSLR), you'll have good results if you underexpose the sunset... the meter inside the camera normally tries to make the scene brighter than it really is for sunsets. You can use exposure compensation to reduce the amount of light to saturate the colors. Check your camera manual or do a quick search online to learn how to use your camera's exposure compensation if you aren't already familiar with it.

Smart Phones

With the camera on your phone, to get great sunsets you may need to download a free camera app. I use Musecam (for iPhone), a free download that has easy access to exposure so you can capture the sunset in all its glory. Camera 360 is a solid option for Android phones. As with the DSLR you'll lower the exposure to saturate colors and make the sunset pop.

Color Balance

With either the DSLR or camera app for your phone, you can experiment with color balance. Set your camera on daylight color balance or even cloudy or open shade - these last two will add even more warm tones to your sunset shots. Don't forget to set the camera back to your normal white balance after you're done shooting.

Plan Ahead for the Best Shots

Do you know when sunset will occur? Many weather apps have sunrise and sunset times listed (the Weather app on my iPhone has it below the local forecast). Or you can download a free app that will tell sunrise and sunset times. The benefits of using a smart phone while in the field is that you'll get the local time of sunrise or sunset.

If you're planning on a specific sunset scene, be in position to shoot about twenty minutes before the sun sets and up to 30 minutes after... Often the best colors are quite a bit after the sun sets below the horizon. Be patient, and keep shooting pictures - sometimes the very best colors happen between 20 and 30 minutes after sunset. The later after sunset you photograph, the more you'll need a tripod!

Play Around for Great Shots

Don't forget to look behind you when shooting sunsets... sometimes the colors on the scene around you are as interesting as the sunset itself.

Think about composition... many interesting photographs don't break the horizon in the middle of the frame - so think about this while you are shooting, and try different compositions.

For more ambitious photographers, consider shooting in RAW format, and bracketing exposures to do HDR processing in post production.

All of the sunset photos on our web site were shot by Michigan photographer Neil Weaver.