By Bill Dobbins


Everybody loves shooting photos of sunsets.  And sunrises, too – but that means getting up very, very early and driving to a selected location.  Which is often a lot of trouble.  Besides which, there is more dust in the air in the afternoon which exaggerates the color of sunsets and makes them more spectacular.  In the early morning the air is cleaner and clearer, so the color is less dramatic.

My bookkeeper loves to take her point-and-shoot camera to the beach and take pictures as the sun goes down.  She is not alone.  The Internet is full of snapshots by all sorts of people showing the varieties of colors you see when the sun sets.  And that’s what sunsets are really all about.  There is no “realistic” sunset, no “typical” colors as the sun goes down.  There are too many variables involving weather, clouds, atmosphere, dust, humidity, time of the year, attitude and so forth.

Sunset-Joshua Tree-021
The subject of sunset photos is color. Here the landscape, clouds and sky are bathed in the golden light of the setting sun.
Background-Joshua Tree-021-Edit
The same photo as above in BW. Still some interesting tones and textures but with the color gone it is a totally different kind of picture.

This makes sunsets a great subject for digital photography.  Other types of digital photos can show us exaggerated, distorted or unrealistic color but there is so much variety in the colors of a sunset that almost any  way they look in a photo might be real in some actual situation.  You can see all different shades of red, orange, pink and yellow and even violet, blues and greens when viewing a sunset so who is to say that the colors in any sunset photo can’t be “real?”


Venice Sunset

Venice Sunset

Think of it, can you recall any great sunset photos of Ansel Adams?  He captured landscapes bathed in unusual weather and lighting situations like almost nobody else.  But he shot almost exclusively in BW so sunsets were not among his subjects.  One of his most famous photos, Moonrise Over Hernandez New Mexico  was shot just after sunset.  It would not have been effective shot in color.  There would have been almost no color present in the scene.  Not like it would have been just before sunset with the scene bathed in dramatic color.

Sunsets make good backlighting for photos like this. What is needed is some kind of light or reflector used to balance the foreground and background illumination.

In general, the subject of any color photograph is primarily the color itself.  And what is true of color photographs in general is especially the case when it comes to photos of sunsets.  They often tend to be so spectacular that is it difficult to come up with what you would consider a bad photo of a sunset.  Of course, really capable photographers can produce sunset images that are reliably spectacular and interesting.  That is a fact that is often forgotten in this digital age.  When snap shooters  get super photos it is primarily an accident.

Nonetheless,  my bookkeeper has come up with some really nice sunset photos.  She just can’t do so  on a consistent or predictable basis.  That’s because she crunches numbers for a living rather than shooting photos.  When it comes to professional photography, you need to rely on somebody you can be sure will do a good job.


Bill Dobbins is a pro photographer located in  Los Angeles. He is a veteran photographer and videographer who has exhibited his fine art in two museums and a number of galleries and who has published eight books, including two fine art photo books:

The Women: Photographs of The Top Female Bodybuilders (Artisan)
Modern Amazons (Tashen)


Venice Sunset


The sun near the horizon casts long shadows, which can get into the shot if you aren’t careful.