Most people why try photographing sunsets notice that the sun and sky are way to bright and the water/land is way too dark. Another common problem is that the foreground or sun is out of focus. Well, here is how to get stunning sunset (or sunrise) photos.
Note that during the winter, the sky is usually clearer and there is less haze. Also note that a low ISO should be used to reduce noise and a slow shutter speed may be necessary.
1: Composition. Place the horizon on the top line in an imaginary grid (#), and include an area of interest in the water/ground. If the land is boring and there are amazing cloud formations, the horizon could be placed on the bottom line of the grid.
2: Lighting. Since the top of the landscape is much brighter than the bottom, one of two options need to be used. The first choice would be to use a graduated neutral density filter (GND), such as the ones from Cokin. A 4X filter could be used to darken the sky by a couple of stops. The other option is to set the camera up on a tripod (which should be done anyway) and expose one shot for the land and the other shot for the sky. Then combine the two shots in a High-Dynamic Range photo using Helicon Filter (or Photoshop).
3: Finally, the focus. In order to achieve the proper DOF (depth of field), use the highest f-number your camera offers, such as f/16. Another option would be to set the focus to various distances from the camera and combine them in Helicon Focus.
That's it! Have fun and remember to take your time in selecting a location and setting up. The ideal time for actually photographing is between 30 minutes before sunset/after sunrise and 45 minutes after sunset/before sunrise, though the image is more likely to contain amazing colors and cool cloud/water effects after sunset/before sunrise.
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