How to Take Better Sunset Photos With an iPhone

You can create beautiful photos with ease

What to Know

  • Go to Settings > Camera > turn on Grid toggle. To straighten a photo's horizon, tap Edit > crop tool.
  • Plan to edit images after shooting, and try using photo editing apps to enhance images after shooting.
  • If possible, use High Dynamic Range (HDR) mode or a dedicated HDR app to emphasize shadows and highlights.

This article explains various methods you can use with your iPhone's camera to take better sunset photos.

Make Sure the Horizon Is Level

Many sunset photos posted on social media have a common issue that is relatively easy to correct: crooked horizon lines. Camera apps often have a toggle switch for grid lines, including the built-in camera app. In the Camera menu in your iPhone settings, you can find the grid toggle. This will overlay a rule-of-thirds grid on your screen when you use the camera. When shooting, pay attention to the horizon lines in your scene, and keep them straight against the grid lines.

Sunset over water with streaky clouds.

Lifewire / Paul Marsh

For photos that you've already taken that are crooked, most photo apps have a straighten adjustment. It's included in the editing functions of the built-in iOS Photos app. To use the straighten feature, tap Edit while viewing the photo in the camera roll and then select the crop tool. Swipe left or right on the angle scale, and a grid overlays atop the image to help you straighten the horizon lines.

Keeping horizon lines straight in the first place allows you to get the best of your composition without having to crop important parts of the image out when you edit the photo to straighten it. It also keeps your image well-balanced and more pleasing to the eye.

Shoot to Edit

Technology has come a long way, but no camera can capture the depth of what the eye can see. When we shoot photos, we have to make choices. Even back in the film days, the darkroom was all about editing. Ansel Adams used to say that the negative is the score, and the print is the performance.

When the App Store became available and photo editing apps started arriving in our pockets, the iPhone became the first device that allowed you to shoot, edit, and share photos without having to upload them from a memory card to a computer.

Blue sky over water.

Lifewire / Paul Marsh

While sunsets rarely need editing, planning on some editing is wise, even before shooting the photo. Capturing details in clouds can be difficult, for example, if you're not careful what you choose when you expose the image. Many apps, such as Camera+, ProCamera, and ProCam 2, allow you to separate focus from exposure so that you can tap one part of the scene to focus and another part to set the exposure. Even the basic camera app allows you to tap the part of the image you want to expose.

If you set the exposure in the bright area of the sky, the darker areas often turn completely dark. If you pick a dark part of the image, the sunset sky will wash out. The trick is to pick something close to the middle and use an editing app to make the colors and contrast really pop. If you have to choose, aim for the sky, expose for the sky, and edit for the shadows.

Black-and-white sunsets can be very compelling. A monochrome sky can be as dramatic as one in color.

Try Some Editing Apps

Nowadays, many free editing apps for iPhone and Android are at your disposal. Powerful photo-editing tools such as Snapseed and Filterstorm. There's also an iPhone version of Photoshop. These give you capabilities you could only dream about a few years ago.

Snapseed works particularly well for sunset photos; the drama filter enhances the contrast and textures in the light. You might find that this is the only adjustment you need to make to a sunset image.

Woman on phone silhouetted at sunset


d3sign / Getty Images

Explore apps like SlowShutterCam, too. The setting sun is always fun to play with, and if you're near water, SlowShutterCam can give you an effect similar to a long exposure on a more sophisticated camera. The softening effect can yield beautiful results at sunset and can give your image a painterly feel.


A common method for expanding the range of tones in an image is to combine two or more images in a process called High Dynamic Range (HDR). Simply put, this process involves combining an image exposed for the shadows with an image exposed for the highlights into one image with both areas properly exposed. Sometimes, the results are unnatural-looking and unsettling. Still, when done properly, sometimes you can't tell that the HDR process was used.

Many iPhone camera apps, including the built-in camera, have an HDR mode, which often delivers better sunset results. For the best results, though, a dedicated HDR app like ProHDR or TrueHDR gives you the most control. You can either shoot the HDR photo from within the app or take a dark photo and a bright photo and manually merge them in the HDR app.

A golden sunset over water with lily pads.

Lifewire / Paul Marsh

While sunset silhouettes can be pleasing, sometimes the details in the dark areas can provide context. HDR gives you the ability to show the color and detail in the sky and the details in the dark shadow areas. Since you're combining two or more images to make one HDR photo, a tripod or something to support your iPhone can help keep the edges of the merged photos clean. Alternatively, you can capture the movement creatively, knowing that you're taking two photos and merging them.

Explore the Light

Be patient. The best light and color often arrive after the sun disappears behind the horizon. Watch for the best color several minutes after sunset. Also, explore the way the low angle of the setting sun lights up the world around you. The rim light and backlight effects can lead to some powerful images. Sunsets aren't always about the sun and clouds.

Blurry tower at sunset.

Lifewire / Paul Marsh

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