1. Show up early, and be prepared.
If you know ahead of time that you want to shoot a sunset, it's best to do a little bit of research to determine what time, exactly, the sun will be setting at your latitude and longitude. A simple Google search is a great way to arm yourself with this basic information, but an even better approach would be to rely on specialized software intended especially for photographers. The Photographers' Ephemeris is an app for computers, smartphones and iPads that not only provides detailed information on sunrise and sunset times, but it also lays out the transit of sun and moon across a topographical map of your location, making it even easier to visualize where and when your photo will look its best. Armed with that information—let's say 7:30 is the perfect time to shoot—you'd better be there well in advance of that time. I'd shoot for 7 p.m., myself, just to ensure that I've got enough time to set up while it's light and I can still see in order to set up my camera and make exposure adjustments. As the golden hour approaches I'm ready and able to photograph any beautiful moments that may pop up while I'm waiting. I also recommend shooting right through the perfect time until each image begins to pale compared to the previous exposure. This way you'll be sure not to leave the scene one second too early.
2. Use manual white balance.
It's fairly safe to assume that one of the reasons you're photographing a sunset is because of its beautiful colors. So don't risk ruining those great colors with an automatic color balance. Instead, choose a manual white-balance preset to ensure the colors in the sky won't be desaturated or washed out. (Underexposing slightly is also a good way to maximize color in a sky, but we'll discuss that more in a moment.) I suggest starting with a basic daylight white balance, but you can also choose other presets—such as open shade, cloudy day, or even tungsten settings—to manually shift the color in a deliberately warmer or cooler direction depending on the scene. If you're really good, you can even choose your DSLR's Kelvin temperature settings to manually add warmth (with a higher color temperature) or make a scene appear cooler (by going lower on the Kelvin scale). Either way, these shifts are fairly safe with shots of skies only, or even with silhouettes, but it can become dangerous to shift the color balance too far if you plan to fill in the foreground with a flash. Even if you don't want to do anything funky with the color, the manual daylight white balance will ensure that the camera doesn't "help" by compensating for bold reds, purples or golden hues in a beautiful sunset.Read more:
Summer Sunset Photo Tips—06/25/12 | DPmag.com