How to shoot a better sunset using White Balance

In my photography workshops students often get the chance to shoot beautiful sunsets. I show them how to increase the colour in their shots using White balance.

So, what is it? White balance balances the colour temperature in your image. How does it do this? It adds the opposite colour to the image in an attempt to bring the colour temperature back to neutral. Instead of whites appearing blue or orange, they should appear white after correctly white balancing an image.

I find most of my students use the white balance in Auto before coming to a workshop with me. This white balance has the camera scan the scene and automatically select the value of Kelvin - colour temperature to what the camera thinks the scene is they are seeing in front of them. Sometimes the camera can produce the perfect colour, but equally it may give you the wrong result.

Here are my hints for grabbing a perfect sunset using White Balance:

The first thing you will need to do is to change your camera over to the MAGIC (M) mode. Manual mode helps you ensure you will get your desired effect.

I shoot all my photographs in RAW, but a lot of my students don't have the correct software to edit RAW photographs, so they need to change settings at location in when using JPEG.

  • Camera White Balance is irrelevant when Shooting in RAW, only in JPG. You have to do all adjustments in Post production.

Next, lets adjust your ISO. Pop it down as low as you can get it. My 5d will reach 50, but most cameras are between 100-200.

Next you will need to set your aperture / F/stop. For landscapes I like to shoot between f/16 and f/22 while on a tripod. I do find a lot of other photographers like to place their cameras between f/8 - f/14.

You may like to change your camera's focus over to Manual. If you have the ability to focus in live view, do so. Choose the point you want to focus on and dial in your focus as sharp as possible. You may need to zoom in to see if the shot is perfectly in focus using live view mode.

I now pop my white balance over from Auto White Balance to the Shade setting. I will tell my students to remember this that Shade starts with an 'S' and so does sunset. Shade will help you get the most out of your sunset and bring out those golden yellows and oranges.

Don't limit yourself to only this white balance. Try them all. The blues can look amazing during a sunset. Also turn around and take a look behind you. Sometimes that is where the perfect photograph is. Use the beautiful golden light to get other stunning shots, like portraits or use the light to enhance a landscape or architectural shot.

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