How To Craft a Brilliant Sunset

Sunsets are always lovely, right?

Even the most mundane sunset is nice to watch…but to photograph? Perhaps not. The one thing that can make an average sunset extraordinary is an interesting sky. But what if there isn’t a cloud in sight during your only time to photograph a particular location? You craft a brilliant sunset in post.

Crafting a Brilliant Sunset

Last month, while I was spending some time on California’s central coast, I had the opportunity to photograph the sunset in Shell Beach. It was a beautiful day without a single cloud in the sky.

I had visions of capturing a starburst from the sun as it crept behind the hills in the distance. However, the dynamic range of the scene was simply too wide. In most of my frames I ended up with either a blown out sky or lost my foreground to the shadows. So, after the sun had barely dipped behind the hill I made a series of seven manually bracketed shots to capture all of the detail from the highlights to the shadows.

Crafting a Brilliant Sunset | 7 Manually Bracketed Photos
7 Manually Bracketed Photos

Step 1: Merge to HDR

Starting in Lightroom, I exported my RAW bracketed files into Aurora HDR. I applied the Realistic & Balanced preset (located in the Realistic HDR group) and then added a bit of contrast and decreased the exposure on the foreground using the Top & Bottom Adjustment.

After Aurora HDR
After Aurora HDR

Step 2: Lightroom Adjustments

After reimporting the photo back into Lightroom I cropped/straightened the photo, removed dust spots and chromatic aberrations.

After Lightroom Adjustments
After Lightroom Adjustments

Step 3: On1 Effects 2017

For my creative enhancements I jumped over to Photoshop, duplicated my layer and then opened the photo in On1 Effects 2017. I applied numerous effects to make the colors and detail pop.

After On1 Effects 2017
After On1 Effects 2017

Step 4: Topaz Star Effects

My final creative enhancement was to add the sunburst peeking over the hill like I’d imagined the scene when I originally captured the photograph. To make it happen I duplicated my layer again in Photoshop and then opened the photograph in Topaz Star Effects. I had to play with the sliders quite a bit to make my sunburst look realistic, but I really love how it turned out.

After Topaz Star Effects
After Topaz Star Effects

Step 5: Finishing Touches in Lightroom

After I finished my creative enhancements I jumped back into Lightroom and added a tiny bit of sharpening. I’m pretty happy with the final photograph! Adding the sunburst and enhancing the colors/details really make this photo pop.

Shell Beach Sunset | Crafting a Brilliant Sunset

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links which means that I may receive a commission if you click on one of the product links and make a purchase. I only share products that I believe will be valuable to my readers (most of which I personally use and love). All opinions are my own.

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