Advice on lake sunset


TPF Noob!
Jun 14, 2013
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Hey everyone,

In the area, I've got a lake with a lighthouse that offers some really nice sunsets across the water, at just the right angle to include the lighthouse and the little peninsula that leads out to it. On a mostly clear day, with maybe just a bit of cloud bank on the horizon it provides wonderful color.. blues, purples, oranges, yellows...etc...

I'm wanting to go out and get some shots of this. I shoot with a Canon t3i, my available lenses are the EFS 18-55mm and the EFS 55-250mm IS. I've got a polarizing filter, tripod, shutter release and I'm comfortable shooting in any mode, including manual, don't have any trouble reading the light meter. The range is fine for either lens, depending on how tight I want the shot. But I want this to be a very rich photo, with plenty of sharp detail in it. What else can I do (or add to my gear) that might help me get that good balance between a colorful sky and still have the foreground nice too?

I've included what I could think of as far as conditions and what I'm shooting with, but if I missed anything I apologize. Just looking for some general tips on how to make the best of this and capture a nice sunset.

Thanks! :)
I'm going to make a bold assumption that you have a tripod as well to shoot from. That being the case, stop your lens down 2-4 stops from wide open, where the sweet spot for sharpness usually is, compose your shot, and bracket it with a range of shutter speeds. Choose the best later, or even combine multiple shots in post for the best sky and foreground.

Before someone suggests a graduated ND filter, keep in mind that there's a lighthouse sticking up from the horizon where the ND will split the scene, and that vertical column will be affected by the ND filter as well, so a mask made in post and using two images is a much better choice for this, IMHO.
What do you mean by you'd like a "rich photo with lots of nice sharp detail in it"?

Do you find you normally have troubles capturing sharp photos? Or rich detail?

Most photos have some amount of sharpening done in post production to really make details come out. It could be this is your missing step.

Also, you might consider shooting an HDR. Not to get a weird alien landscape sunscape. But to increase the dynamic range if you find you have an issue getting the lighthouse and the sun all correctly exposed.
Buckster, yes I do have a tripod and wouldn't shoot this any other way. Thank you very much for the reply and the advice, I'll give it a try.

Vautrin, I may have worded that wrong.. I don't typically have a problem getting a sharp image. I guess by rich, I meant that I wanted to capture all the color without sacrificing my foreground (underexposed in exchange for a nice sky).

And to both of you for suggesting a combination of images in HDR to reach my goal, thank you. It had crossed my mind and it's definitely going to be one of the things I do. I can run it through Photomatix at home and see what I get, since I plan to bracket the shots as suggested anyway.

Oh and Buckster, I did consider getting an ND filter for this, but had the same thought about the lighthouse. (though, the filter is still something I'll add to my bag anyway)

Thanks for the ideas and suggestions, really appreciate it.
Depending on what you shoot you might try software like Viveza.

So long as you haven't clipped your highlights, you can use it to get a uniform exposure
You will likely not need your polarizer. When shooting straight into the sun, the polarizer wont be of much use. Due to the way in which polarizers work, they have little effect if the sun is either directly ahead of the camera or directly behind you. But they work great when the sun is high above or off to one side.

Point the camera AWAY from the sun to meter the shot. Meter whatever you would like nicely exposed (e.g. the sky or the foreground). If the sun is in the frame then it will massively throw the accuracy of the meter reading (it'll try to take an exposure which makes the sun look less bright, but leaves absolutely everything else too dark.)

Some of those "rich" photos you may have seen were likely taking with something called a "reverse gradient neutral density" filter. These are rectangular filters and they "slide" into a filter holder (they don't screw onto the lens). See: Singh-Ray Filters: Galen Rowell Graduated Neutral Density Filters

Notice (if you look at the link) that this filter is a long rectangle and is completely clear on roughly half the filter. The other half is tinted. But the tinting is reversed... instead of a light tint which builds up as you get to the edge, the strongest tint is in middle of the filter and fades weaker as you get to the opposite edge (opposite the clear side.)

The idea here is that the foreground, not emitting any light of it's own, would normally be the darkest area of the frame (with a naked unfiltered shot). The sky -- which is giving off it's own light glow -- will be lighter than foreground, but not nearly as bright as the sun. The sun will be brightest but it's near the horizon. So this filter dims the "horizon" the most, the sky the 2nd most, and doesn't dim the foreground at all.

These slide-in filters require a special holder (although frankly some people have been known to just hold the filter in front of the lens if it's a quick exposure time.)
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TCampbell, thanks for the reply..filter looks like it's definitely worth trying out as well. I'm assuming that the holder you're referring to is a lot like those that hold most squared ND filters (like what Cokin makes?)

EDIT: Nevermind, saw that it works with Cokin holders. Lol
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TCampbell, thanks for the reply..filter looks like it's definitely worth trying out as well. I'm assuming that the holder you're referring to is a lot like those that hold most squared ND filters (like what Cokin makes?)

EDIT: Nevermind, saw that it works with Cokin holders. Lol

Yes - when selecting, you normally consider the lens(es) you plan to use it with and buy a holder wide enough that the sides of the filter holder wont show in your images (so you don't get "vignetting"), then buy the filters in the appropriate size for that holder.
TCampbell, excellent .. thanks again for your input.

I'm paying a visit to the camera store on Tuesday anyway to pick up a 35mm film camera. I'll take a close look at filters while I'm there.

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