Anyone can take great sunset pictures.  It just takes the right equipment, conditions, location, and planning.  In terms of equipment, sunsets do not require expensive lenses, or fancy add-ons, and there are some locations where you will always be able to get a shot, while other locations will require that conditions will need to be just right.  See the picture to the side of perhaps my favorite example of conditions being just right to produce a great picture.  This picture was taken on a fishing trip on the Oneida River (where it meets Lake Oneida) near Syracuse, NY.

Sunset over Oneida RiverCredit: Todd Metcalfe


While in my experience with the right conditions any camera can do, I have seen great sunset pictures taken from cell phones, a good digital camera, preferably a digital SLR, helps for getting great sunset pictures.  I personally use a Canon SL1 and love it, and am personally impressed with the depth of color I get from it, and it is far better than even my old digital SLR (a Canon XTi).  Whether you are using a digital SLR or not, ideally you want a camera where you can control the shutter speed and aperture.  This will give you the most control over the colors that you capture in your sunset.

Canon EOS Rebel SL1 Digital SLR with 18-55mm STM Lens
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I love my SL1 and feel that it gives me much better color outcomes in my pictures than my old dslr did.

Weather Conditions

The right conditions are necessary to be able to take good sunset pictures.  Ideally you want to have some clouds in the sky.  Too few and you will not be able to get a full field depth of color that makes a picture really amazing.  Too many and, of course, you will not see the sunset.  This is why I stalk the weather report and generally have in mind a few days where the conditions may be right, and then I observe the sky as it gets closer to sunset.  Cloud coverage can change pretty drastically approaching evening, so try not to really pay attention until only a couple of hours before sundown.  Note that if you have very little cloud cover and you have a situation where you can see the horizon over the water, you can still likely get some interesting pictures.  Such as a picture I took at Selkirk Shores, over Lake Ontario.  

Selkirk Shores SunsetCredit: Todd Metcalfe

Picking a Location

You need to identify good locations for taking your sunset pictures.  The easiest and generally most visually interesting locations in my opinion are lakes and other water bodies.  To find a promising location it only takes a look at Google Maps.  I look for large bodies of water, with a park or other public access (such as a fishing pier, or beach) on its Eastern shore.  I live in Central NY, so I always have Lake Ontario that I can go to, though I have had lots of good experiences with smaller lakes. 

Planning Your Photo Session

Planning is important if you want to get good sunset pictures.  While the sun does set every day, you generally are not at the right place at the right time to be able to get a great shot.  With a little bit of planning you can get the shot.  The one you want to show everyone, and that all of your friends will like and comment on, on Facebook.  In my experience, sunset pictures get some of the most shares and likes on my Facebook page.  The colors you can get from sunsets really catch people's eyes.

Obviously you need to be there at the right time, in my experience, thirty minutes before sunset is a good time to get to your location.  You can simply Google “sunset ” and get the time.  Find a good place to take the pictures; ideally it will have an unimpeded view of the western sky. I tend to plan other activities around looking for sunsets, such as hiking and fishing.  However, there are a couple of locations, near enough to where I live I can get to with less notice if I happen to notice cloud cover that is looking promising.  The clouds will change color at different points in the sunset, and stick around a little during twilight.  Sometimes you are rewarded with interesting colors in the sky.  This picture from Sodus Point Beach Park, was taken during twilight.

Twilight over Lake OntarioCredit: Todd Metcalfe