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  • Writer's pictureJefferson Graham

Tips on how to photograph a great sunset

I’m always chasing sunsets, especially in the winter. They’re the best free light show anywhere, and as a photographer, trust me, people respond more to sunset shots than anything else. How to photograph a great sunset? You’ve come to the right place. 

There is arguably no better sunset spot in the South Bay than the Manhattan Beach Pier, which is celebrating its 100th birthday this year. The combination of the long Pier, the Roundhouse at the end, the sun and the post sunset colors produces an iconic image that people fall in love with. Just ask all the people who buy those photos of the Pier every year (or most, in non COVID times) at the Manhattan Beach Hometown Fair.

How to get a great sunset shot from the Pier? I have a few ideas on this one, as a photographer who has easily shot thousands of them, if not more, over 24 years living in Manhattan Beach, California.

Manhattan Beach Pier sunset

The Manhattan Beach Pier in November 2019, as photographed by Jefferson Graham on an iPhone 11 Pro for the Photowalks series

The first thing I do when I shoot a sunset is figure out where to stand. Your top choices:

  1. From the view spots of the overhead parking lots,

  2. On either the left or right side,

  3. Straight on from in front of the Pier, or better yet, just up the hill on Manhattan Beach Blvd. either by Shellback Tavern, or all the way up the street in-between Skechers and the bikini shop. 

  4. To the left or right side of that,

  5. Underneath the Pier on the sand,

  6. Or the left or right side sand view. 

I also like climbing atop the lifeguard tower on the Pier itself, which is how I got the shot that’s my thumbnail for the accompanying video above.

Manhattan Beach Pier by Jefferson Graham for the Photowalks series

But the problem with the parking lot shots are all those palm trees. There are so many of them. Do you leave in just two, or four or more of them? I prefer to hold the camera in a position, and they get in the way of your shot, unless you artfully hold the camera in a way to either eliminate them, or leave in, say, just two of them, which is the shot I prefer.

How to photograph a great sunset

Jefferson Graham’s tips on how to shoot great sunset shots

Straight on can be great for the iconic view of people walking the Pier, but sometimes the crowds get in the way. 

On the Pier itself isn’t great for sunset shots, unless you’re willing to lean over and pick up some of the side view while you’re up there. It is the quintessential place for overhead surf shots.

Manhattan Beach Pier

Manhattan Beach Pier by Jefferson Graham for the Photowalks series

My favorite spot for a sunset is down on the sand, first of all, because it’s just more fun to be down there. Think about it–when’s the last time you saw a family portrait session on the Pier itself! No, we all go down to the sand for these. 

For sunsets, you have two choices, the right side of the Pier or the left., My experience is that the right side is great for after-sunset colors, but while the sun is setting, it’s hard to stand in position and pick up the Pier and the setting sun. For that, I always go left.

Manhattan Beach Pier by Jefferson Graham

Remember that the best part of the sunset isn’t the sun setting, but what comes afterwards. Some of my best sunset shots have arrived 20-25 minutes later. 

For instance, at the end of the year, the city of Manhattan Beach dolls up the Roundhouse with a colored Christmas Tree lights, and if you stand in the right place, you can pick that up, along with a green reflection on the water. Pretty Cool, right? 

Manhattan Beach Pier sunset

As far as camera choice, I’ve shot many great sunsets with my camera, and I’ve also done really well with the camera in my pocket–an iPhone. Believe it or not. Many of the shots shown here were taken with either the iPhone 11 Pro or iPhone 12 Pro Max. I like a good, wide expansive sunset view, and the iPhone wide camera does a great job with that.

What’s your favorite sunset technique? I’d love to hear from you on social media, where I’m @jeffersongraham on Twitter, Instagram and YouTube. 

Manhattan Beach Pier

Manhattan Beach Pier by Jefferson Graham for the Photowalks series

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