Sunsets are one of the most photographed subjects on the planet, and for good reason. But because they're so photographed (and now, uploaded to Instagram), sunsets have become a bit of a photographic cliche. Although every sunset is unique, it can be a real challenge to capture them in a unique way.
It's difficult to completely escape the cliched aspect of sunset images, but here are five things you can do to improve your odds of capturing something interesting.
Look Behind You
We tend to go through life moving forward. Biologically, much of this comes from our physical makeup with our feet pointed forward and eyes in front of our heads. We don't spend a lot of time looking behind us (or above us). Sometimes, however, the best things really are behind you. And this can be true of sunsets. The sun may be setting in front of you but maybe it's those clouds behind you where all the visual action is happening, or, importantly, where there might be a more interesting composition.
Make Use Of Leading Lines
Not familiar with the concept of leading lines? They're elements within your image that are used to compose and draw your viewer into the image. Notice in the first example below how I've used the line of the boardwalk, and to an extent the rocks on the left side, to give your eye a "path" to follow into the image. This is a classic way to engage the viewer.
Pictured above: Hamelin Pool Marine Nature Reserve, Western Australia
In the second example (below), see how the lines of the beach ultimately draw you to the fisherman and boat in the distance?
Pictured above: Monkey Mia, Western Australia
Look For The Story
A pretty picture is, well, just a pretty picture. Instead of simply a static image, what kind of story can you tell? Is there something going on around you that you can incorporate into the image to provide some interest for your viewers, make them think or ask questions? This is possibly the most important tip. Again, it's about engaging your viewers.
Look For Silhouettes
Sunsets are great times to look for and make use of silhouettes. Silhouettes often come about naturally when including objects in sunset photos, but if you keep your eye and mind open, you never know what less obvious idea you might come up with. Many things can make great silhouettes, especially if they are recognisable or create interesting patterns. Trees are often good subjects for silhouettes, particularly in winter when all the leaves are gone.
Pictured above: Elliot Bay from Victor Steinbrueck Park, Seattle, WA
Place Something In The Foreground
You may be witnessing the most brilliant sunset in the world but if all you're showing in your photo is the sunset, your image is likely going to feel rather static, or like something is missing. Try placing something in the foreground. Foreground elements can add additional interest to a composition. Sunsets are rather distant subjects so placing something in the foreground can help to balance the composition as well.
Pictured above: Grass and sand dunes, Newport, OR
In the end, it's possible to move beyond the cliche and get a good sunset photo. Remember, a good sunset photo isn't necessarily about the sunset, but rather, how well you engage the people viewing it.
Darin Rogers is a freelance photographer specialising in culture, travel, and architecture. Originally from the States, he currently bases himself in Australia and the Philippines. He regularly travels the world, searching for awesome shots that will contribute to his becoming world-famous. You can see more of his work in a copy of his ebook, Capturing The Journey and read his blog at http://www.darinrogers.net/. Darin can also be found on Facebook and Google+.