How To Take A Decent Tropical Sunset Photo – 31+ Days To Better Photography

Raise your hand if you’ve taken this type of picture:


Great sunset, huh? I know, because I took this. It was an awesome sight. My first night in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico and out of the sub-freezing temps in Seattle. On top of that, SUN! And relaxation (of a sort). A memory I want to keep so…click!!  Take it home and post it on Facebook.

No!!!  Please don’t.

Please don’t post pictures like this on Facebook or force your friends look at them. Shots like this are memories for you and that’s awesome (believe me, sunshine in February is awesome).

But you can do better!  Yes you can, and it’s simple. It’s about composition. For a refresher, take a look at the Rule Of Thirds, that’s what we’ll be going over here and applying it to sunsets.

First, taking a shot of the sun setting over the ocean can be one of the most boring subjects. Water, sky, sun. Not many elements. And putting the horizon in the middle of the image is often what most people do, like the image above. But remembering what you read in the Rule Of Thirds, let’s change things a little.


Ok, now we’ve moved that horizon down to the bottom third and opened up the sky. Awesome clouds, include them! One step further:


Moving the sun over to the intersection of two of those dividing lines helps balance things better. It gives us a direction to go in the image, out to sea to join the sun. Let’s try exaggerating things a bit now and throwing caution to the wind (which was warm and welcoming this night, might I add):


Meh. I’m not sold. There are enough clouds, but let’s see what we can get going back to the Rule Of Thirds with the foreground:


Well now, that’s more exciting! Waves and sun and sand. With the on rush of the waves, I don’t want the sun too far off to the side and bring it ever so slightly back toward center, but not all the way. This gives the sunlight a chance to light up the sand that the waves are not yet attacking. I also GET LOWER! Just crouching down helps change perspective.


That’s more like it. Can you see the difference in the composition in the last two? The foreground is more prominent and that works for me.

Mind you, this is just one option, but it is so easy and people will want to look at your vacation photos more often. All I did was to crouch down closer to the water, put the horizon near the top third (not even to that point in the last image) and clicked away, waiting for the waves to make something pretty to shoot.

Try it! The next time you’re on vacation, take a stab at this simple technique. And post your results here, I’d like to see them.

31 Days To Better Photography is a series written by professional photographer Peter West Carey on The Carey Adventures.Com. The series is designed to unravel the mysteries of photography so you can take better pictures. Subscribe here to receive all the updates and bonus material. Your comments are always welcome.

Photo ToursIf you enjoy the series, consider learning photography first-hand on one of Peter’s professionally lead international photo tours. Current locations include Nepal and Bhutan with Morocco, Greenland, Patagonia and Mongolia. More information can be found at Far Horizon Photo Tours’ website

4 Replies to “How To Take A Decent Tropical Sunset Photo – 31+ Days To Better Photography”

  1. Pingback: Sunsets | Gaining Life Experience

  2. jim

    Nice job on explaining composition. Can you suggest how to take shots in the SEAsian sunlight. I’ve been to Thailand and Cambodia and have taken nice shots but the hot light seems to wash out the blue sky. Dawn light is better, for sure, but after 10am I’m at a loss. Thanks!

    • Peter West Carey Post author

      Hi Jim,

      That type of sun can be boring, to be honest. When the haze takes away the brilliance of the sun and sky, it makes it hard to capture what you mind thinks should be there. When there is that much atmospheric haze, your best best is to use a haze filter and a circular polarizing filter. The polarizing filter will work when pointed 90 degrees away from the sun, so it can’t work in certain situations.

      Otherwise, most landscape photographers avoid mid day just because the light is so harsh. What you’re seeing is normal and doesn’t lend itself well to blue skies. Unfortunately.


Leave a Reply