Your iPhone is a great tool for taking gorgeous sunset photos. But doing so can be a bit tricky because it lacks the manual settings a DSLR has.
It can be tough to see the sunset on your iPhone depending on the intensity of the light. You might also feel a little lost in terms of what to expose for in the scene.
Do you want to take sunset photos on your iPhone that wow your friends and maybe make them a little jealous? We’ve compiled 8 quick tips to add some instant pop and wow to your iPhone sunset photos.
How to adjust exposure for better iPhone sunset photos
You can adjust your iPhone’s exposure for sunset photos by tapping the area you want to expose for on your screen. Open your iPhone camera and start tapping around on the screen. You’ll see a small box that covers an area the iPhone is choosing for exposure and focus.
Tap different areas on your screen for where you want to set exposure–generally toward brighter areas in a sunset–and snap your photo.
If you want to recompose your shot or make the photo brighter or dimmer, tap and hold the area you want to expose. Doing this will lock focus and exposure.
From there, slide your finger up and down the screen away from the focus/exposure box and you’ll see that it makes the scene brighter or darker.
This should give you the basics for using your iPhone to take sunset photos as far as exposure and focus goes.
How to compose sunset photos on your iPhone for visual balance
To get better composition using your iPhone for sunset photos, you’ll want to turn on the grid in your camera’s settings.
Go to your phone’s Settings > Camera > Composition > Grid and turn the slider on.
When you reopen the camera app, you should see a grid that helps you visualize the rule of thirds.
You don’t want to have your horizon line cutting across your frame. Instead, bring the horizon down or up a third using the grid as a guideline. Doing this gives more visual appeal to sunset photos on your iPhone.
When you include trees, people, or animals in your iPhone sunset photos, you’ll also want to use the rule-of-thirds grid. Place objects and people near those lines or where the lines intersect for better visual balance.
Look for clouds for dramatic sunset photos using your iPhone
Clouds can add more depth and dimension in sunset photos. Have you ever stepped outside and have been wowed by a pink and blue sky, rippled with waves of orange and red clouds? That’s what you want to capture.
Of course, we can’t control the weather. But if you’re looking to get a killer sunset photo with your iPhone, pay attention to cloud cover and rainy days. When things clear up, those types of days often give the most dramatic sunsets.
You’ll want to use the same exposure technique even when there are lots of clouds. It may not seem like it to your naked eye, but even cloudy skies are fairly bright.
Tap on the clouded area in your camera app to get a baseline for your exposure and go from there. Experiment by adding the horizon in, or use portions of tree tops or the clouds all by themselves.
One thing you want to take advantage of is the iPhone’s memory. Take hundreds of photos, then delete the ones you don’t want later.
How to use silhouettes for interesting iPhone sunset photos
Start using silhouettes by exposing for the bright parts of the sunset as we mentioned before. Then, look at the darker figures in the foreground or horizon and compose them to be silhouettes.
When you set your iPhone’s exposure for sunset photos, you’ll find that anything darker than the sky itself becomes very dark. You can amplify this effect even more by sliding down on the slider, or adjusting contrast after the photo is taken.
Some ideas for silhouettes would be people walking, palm trees, boats in the distance, or dogs running across the horizon.
Don’t be afraid to overshoot. Take lots of sunset photos with your iPhone and worry about editing or cutting photos out later. This way, you don’t miss any action that would make a great silhouette.
Include more people in your sunset photos
It may not seem intuitive, but adding people to any photo makes it more eye-catching–including sunsets. By using human figures as silhouettes, you instantly create a more interesting sunset photo.
While we agree that many sunsets are gorgeous, we’d be lying if we said we weren’t getting tired of the same iPhone sunset photos over and over again.
Break the trend of shooting the same sunset everyday by adding human elements to it.
You’ve learned how to incorporate them by doing silhouettes, but what if you want to see their faces? Won’t they appear too dark in a sunset photo?
One tip is to turn your subject slightly so that the sunset light is lightly sweeping across their face. In many scenarios, this still allows you to include the sunset in the photo.
But what if there are too many background elements when you turn your subject this way? How do you shoot a sunset with your iPhone then?
Let’s find out.
How to use iPhone flash for sunset portraits
When shooting a sunset portrait with the sun behind your subject, turn on your flash! Click the flash icon on your phone to force the flash on. Then set your focus and exposure as you would, and snap the photo.
Photographers have known for decades that you can create dramatic sunset portraits by using flash.
Your iPhone’s flash isn’t as powerful as a 1000Ws strobe that pros use, but if your subject is close enough to you, it’s plenty.
You just want enough light from your iPhone to fill your subject’s face with some light so you can still see the colors and contrast of the sunset behind them.
Another tip is grabbing a friend’s iPhone and turning on the flashlight feature and using it as a fill light for your subject, as I’ve done here on an NYC rooftop.
Find different vantage points for your iPhone sunset photos
One of my mentors in photography always told me, “High, low, close, far.” What this means is get out of the habit of shooting everything at eye level!
This should be no different when shooting sunsets on your iPhone.
In fact, the iPhone’s form factor allows us to get into spaces, or reach into places, with ease.
Climb a rock or tree (safely, of course) or hike up a trail and get a vantage point. Maybe this will allow you to include the cityscape in your foreground.
You can also try to get low to the ground and use foliage or flowers as your foreground and pop light on them with your flash.
When you’re about to take a sunset photo with your iPhone held up to your face, remember: “High, low, close, far.”
Try reflections for sunset photos on your iPhone
Reflections are another way to add interest to your iPhone sunset photos. Instead of shooting the sunset directly, turn around and see if you can find a reflection of it instead.
You can find interesting iPhone reflections off car windows and mirrors or buildings with large glass windows and panels.
If it has just rained and you’re capturing those epic, cloud-laced sunsets, look around for puddles that might reflect the sunset.
You may even want to try using another phone or your sunglasses to create interesting reflections.
One idea would be to incorporate some of the things mentioned above for your reflection photos. Do you see some cool silhouettes in front of the sunset? Look around and see if that scene is being reflected anywhere!
Or you can hold a friend’s phone underneath yours and use that a reflection as a double (think of a lake reflecting the scene above on land).
Always experiment with iPhone sunset photos
There are no hard and fast rules about iPhone photography, or just photography in general.
Shoot hundreds or thousands of photos and cut the bad ones out later.
You’ll never go wrong overshooting, but you will regret the moments you decided not to shoot.
Have fun out there and let us know on Twitter when you’ve captured some epic sunset photos on your iPhone!
(All photos are Copyright 2023 Marc Flores and may not be reproduced, reused, edited, or redistributed without express written consent.)