Who can resist a sunset? None of us is the answer, it doesn't matter how many or how often we shoot them, if there is a nice sunset occurring and we have our gear we'll be shooting it. When heading out to shoot sunset I always try to get to the location very early, not necessarily to select my shooting spot, I always have a rough idea and don't take long narrowing down my options.
I go very early, often a couple of hours early to practise my composition, Not for the sunset shot but just general practice. I never stop working on composition and find the best time to do so is in daylight because then you have no crutch to lean on. Great light will always help, layers of light and dark as in the image below shot at Kananaskis Lakes in Alberta, Canada just last night are easy pickings. I used a 3 stop ND soft graduated filter to maximise the colour of the sunset and allow a longer exposure to better catch the shadows.
Such images are easily made, everything is aligned from the dark mountain in the front of the image through the beautiful golden peaks behind and then the vast empty slate grey sky providing the last of three layers. I was careful to ensure the light doesn't run out of the frame at either end because this changes the image greatly, it suggests you didn't quite 'capture' your intended topic and detracts from the overall aesthetic. If you do have the light escaping at one side then try to ensure it is escaping the other side equally to provide balance (not in every case obviously, but as a general guide). I placed the sunset high in the frame to reduce the amount of empty sky and increase the amount of shadow below. Doing this adds height to the mountains, first by giving more of the frame to the dark foreground and secondly by pushing the peaks closer to the upper edge of the frame.
It's a nice shot, no world beater but it would sit comfortably in a calendar or magazine, in short it works. However, it works because of the light, in daylight this would be an uninteresting composition with very limited commercial potential.
So, back to my initial point; I go early and I practice shooting in daylight. I shoot almost anything and try to make an interesting image in the harsh light of day. I practice like this every single week because if you can master the basics of composition in harsh light you can always find an image in the wonderful light of sunrise, sunset, the blue hour, night, storms etc. There's an abundance of 'good light' for photography, but finding your shots in poor light will really help you make more of the good stuff when you get it.
I have 18 basic composition elements in my Tips & More section, you can go directly to it from here. I promise you that learning these basic tips will help improve your image making. As always, composition is about knowing the rules so you know when to break them, nothing is 'set in stone' after all it's your image. But, knowing the basic elements will help you make images in all situations and all lighting conditions.
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