Laura Macky Photography

Journey of a body on this earth

Expanding Horizons – Pleasing Sunsets


Some of you may wonder how to capture a sunset so that the foreground (in this case the water) and the sky are properly exposed without one or the other being too dark or blown out.   There are a few different ways of doing this.  Below are some common ways of achieving a properly balanced sunset.

  1. Graduated Neutral Density Filter
  2. HDR, take bracketed photos and merge them using an HDR program
  3. Take two pictures, one exposed for the sky and one exposed for the water, blend in Photoshop

I use Method #3 mostly because I really don’t like the look of HDR for sunsets anymore and I don’t have an ND Grad Filter.  But all is not lost!  Method #3 works really well. 🙂

In short (because it would be a horribly long post if I tried to go into detail), when you take each shot as described in #3 above, it’s important to look at your histogram after a couple test shots to make sure the highlights aren’t blown out in the sky and the foreground is not too dark.  I no longer rely on my preview image on the camera LCD mostly because I can’t see it too well when the sun is up.  A histogram is a way to ensure you’re getting the proper exposure.  Don’t be afraid of the histogram.  I was afraid of it for a long time.  I’m not even sure why except it could’ve been to much information as I was learning.

One thing to remember is that it’s easier to recover shadows than to dial down blown highlights.  In fact, you really can’t dial down blown highlights lol.  Also, when I take sunset photos, I slightly underexpose for the sky (using my exposure compensation button on my Nikon) to allow the colors to be more saturated.  I can then brighten the sky and clouds as I wish in post processing.

Once you’ve taken your photos, they are now ready to be blended in photoshop via layer masks.  After I come up with one blended image, I then heal, clone and/or adjust the image as desired.  My suggestion would be to shoot in RAW because the images contain a lot more information than jpegs, and it gives you a lot more flexibility in post processing.  I always shoot in RAW unless I mess up and inadvertently change my camera settings which has happened!

Hope this was helpful!

Over to the Sun - Miller/Knox Regional Park

Over to the Sun – Miller/Knox Regional Park


Author: lauramacky

Journey of a Body on this Earth

21 thoughts on “Expanding Horizons – Pleasing Sunsets

  1. Pingback: Expanding Horizons – Pleasing Sunsets — Laura Macky Photography | O LADO ESCURO DA LUA

  2. Great shots. The latest HDR programs can give you a more natural look.

    • Thank you Victor. I use Nik HDR and Photomatix but just not for these sunset water shots any longer. I didn’t go into the processing but I’m using Luminosity Masks by Greg Benz now. I’m finding they are a bit softer and not so harsh for these types of shots. And fun too! 🙂

  3. Good tutorial, Laura. Keeps things simple, which is a good thing. One additional suggestion, assuming weight considerations allow, is to shoot the two images from a tripod to make alignment easier in Photoshop.

  4. You and I share the same opinion about HDR, so I use your method 3 a lot when a graduated ND filter won’t work like shooting interiors when bright light is coming through the windows. You can even blend 3 and 4 exposures when shooting in very high contrast situations.

    • Oh yes…interiors would work wonderfully. I also use more than two exposures especially if it’s architecture and inside. Thanks so much for your comment Rich!

  5. I never use an ND filter. It leaves a horrible, horizontal line. I have a few and they are gathering dust

    Of all the HDR programmes that I have used, my favourite by far, is in Lightroom. I never blend in Photoshop.

    On social media – my focus henceforth will be 500px and FAM. I follow you here!

  6. Gorgeous photograph and informative post!

  7. I’m impressed with what you can do, Laura. This is stunning.
    Blessings ~ Wendy

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