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Editing Sunset Photos – How To Edit A Sunset Photo In Lightroom!

Editing your sunset photos well can literally transform your photos from average to spectacular! But how to actually edit a sunset photo and make it look dreamy? You’ll find all the information here!

Over the years I have mastered the art of editing sunset photos and I just love the process to edit my photos in Lightroom and making them come to life!

Here I will guide you through the whole process I use on how to edit a sunset (or sunrise!) photo in Lightroom, to help make editing sunset photos a lot easier for you!


If you are looking for the best tips for editing your sunset (or sunrise) photos read on to discover how to edit a sunset photo in Lightroom!

Challenges of Editing Sunset Photos

Editing sunrise and sunset photos can be difficult, especially if you have a person in the photograph. When editing sunset photos you’ll want to make the colours stand out, yet you don’t want to lose any colours or details, which can be a challenge.

With Lightroom though, it is possible to make literally any sunset or sunrise photo look great.

In this tutorial I’m going to show you the process of editing sunset photos on Lightroom desktop, however you can do the exact same on Lightroom Mobile – which is free!

I actually edit all of my photos with my own Lightroom presets I created:

mobile presets presets

I sell my presets for half the price of what many people sell theirs for – click on the images above to buy!

The presets are available for both Desktop and the free version of Lightroom for mobile – so you can edit your photos with one click on the go! Plus I have 3 presets I created specifically for sunrise and sunset photos!

On a side note, if you are actually looking for ways on whether to know a sunrise or sunset will be good or not, check out this guide how to predict a good sunrise or sunset!

In this tutorial we will look at two different sunset/sunrise edits. One edit has more dramatic vibrant sunset colours, whereas the other one has more subtle neutral toned colours.

Both edits are beautiful, it just depends on what style you are going for in your sunset photos!

How to Edit A Sunset Photo in Lightroom – Editing Sunset Photos

1 : Use Correct Camera Settings

The most important thing you can do to help you create a stunning sunset photo is to get the foundations right: your camera settings.

Shoot your photos in RAW format as opposed to JPEG.

RAW images hold a lot more information than JPEG images. By shooting in the right camera settings (RAW) it will ensure you don’t lose any detail in your images.

This is especially important for the editing process, as the potential to adjust RAW images is far greater than it is for JPEGs.

If a part of the image is overexposed or underexposed, with RAW images you’ll have a much better chance to recover all the information in the image compared to JPEGs.

This is important when editing sunset photos, to ensure you don’t lose the colours in the sky, and you can recover shadows.

You should also really learn to take your photos in manual mode as opposed to automatic. This may seem daunting at first as there is a lot to think about.

However, it will allow you to shoot your photos slightly underexposed, which results in a better end result as you are able to manipulate and edit the image better in Lightroom.

Underexposed photos are always better than overexposed when it comes to editing, as you can get back the information in an underexposed photo.

In an overexposed photo you can’t get the information back that has been overexposed – it is lost forever.

When shooting sunsets you should try to keep your ISO as low as possible. All cameras are different, so you will need to play around with your settings and also work out the best aperture for you camera.

If you are taking sunset photos with your mobile phone:

Make sure you always tap the sky on your screen before taking the photograph (especially if there is someone in your photo)!

By doing this, it makes sure that the sky is captured in the best possible way for the photograph, and that the image won’t be overexposed.

If you don’t do this, there is a high chance that your phone will just light up the foreground and whiten out the sky (overexposure), which will make it impossible for you to edit the sky afterwards.


2: Import Your Sunset Photo into Lightroom

These steps apply both to Lightroom Desktop and the Lightroom Mobile app – which is free! Lightroom Mobile is great for editing your sunset photos on the go so you can share them straight away!

Once you’ve imported your photograph into Lightroom you can either manually edit your photo – which can often take around 20 minutes or so per photo. Or you can just add a preset in one click to save you loads of time.

To make it easier, I have 3 different sunrise/sunset presets in my preset package that are specifically for editing sunrise or sunset photos, which have saved me heaps of time in editing. I click on each preset to see which will work best.

For the photo below I used my preset “Carefree Days”. In just one click the photo went from how it looks on the left, to how it looks on the right. What a difference the one-click preset makes for this picture.

Carefree Days Preset LIGHTROOM edit sunset photos

Before and after using my Carefree Days Preset

You’ll see I was underexposed in this photo, so the preset was able to light up me and the sand in the foreground, both of which were underexposed.

No details were lost in the photo during post-processing (editing) as it was shot in RAW.

This preset gives the photo a really lovely pinky-orange glow that is really popular when editing sunrise or sunset photos.

Even if those colours weren’t present during the sunrise or sunset, you are still able to create them when you edit your photos!

edit sunset photos lightroom wind down preset

Before and after edit with my one-click preset “Wind Down’

The preset I have used for the image above used more vibrant tones than the previous picture. Either preset would have worked well, it just depends on what impact you want to create.

How to Edit A Sunset Photo in Lightroom – Editing Sunset Photos

3: Adjusting Highlights

In all my sunsets presets I like to keep the highlights really low as this helps to the colours to come through more.

So if you are manually editing your sunset photos on Lightroom you’ll want to adjust your highlights and bring the highlights down. You can do this by sliding the Highlights slider to the left.

If you are manually editing your sunset photos and not using a preset you will also want to do the following bullet points below.

By using a preset, you are simply doing all these steps in one step as opposed to doing them one by one, which will save you time and give your photos a more coherent look.

  • Adjust exposure – You may need to brighten up the photo (move slider to right) if you shot it underexposed.
  • Adjust shadows – Increasing the shadows (moving the slider to the right) will brighten the foreground and bring it to life.
  • Adjust vibrance – You may want to increase the vibrance a little to bring out colours.
  • Adjust highlights – Decreasing the highlights will bring out the colours in the sky.

How to Edit A Sunset Photo in Lightroom – Editing Sunset Photos

4: Apply A Graduated Filter (Masking) on Lightroom or ‘Select Sky’ – NEW TOOL!

If the sunset/sunrise colours weren’t that spectacular when you were shooting, or if you want to create a dramatic sunset edit in Lightroom that really stands out, then you may want to use the Graduated Filter – now known as Masking.

You’ll find it under the histogram – the circle known as ‘masking’. Alternatively you can just click on the ‘m’ on your keyboard and it will select it – this is the keyboard shortcut!

You’ll want to select the rectangle: the linear gradient. Then click on your photo and drag the cursor down and you will see the mask will appear red (don’t worry this isn’t the colour your edit will be!).

With your curser you can click on the box and drag the mask up and down to where you would like it in the photo using the small hand icon that appear.

As you will be editing sunrise/sunset photos you will want the mask coming from the top of the image down, which is how it already shows up. But for some reason if you want the mask in a different direction you can rotate it to be vertical or at a diagonal.

Select Sky Tool On Lightroom

However, to make things a whole lot easier, Lightroom now also has a really cool tool called ‘Select Sky’ and ‘Select Subject’ which is a game changer for editing sunset and sunrise photos!

As it says – ‘Select Sky’ selects the sky for you, and ‘Select Subject’ selects the subject for you, so you’re then able to edit the sky and the subject separately and not lose detail on either and not have any overlap!

It doesn’t give you as many editing options as the liner gradient though, but it is still a great tool to experiment using!

You’ll find the ‘Select Sky’ and ‘Select Subject’ tool just above the linear gradient when you click on the masking menu.

select sky lightroom how to edit sunset photos

As you can see on the image above, when you press ‘Select Sky’ or when you use the linear gradient (graduated filter) the area you will want to edit is highlighted red.

It is only selected red so you know which area you will edit, and you can then adjust the colours/brightness etc to your preferred choice – it won’t stay red don’t worry!

When you edit with graduated filters, the top part of the photo will be a bit darker. In other words, the top part of the sky will be darker than the bottom part, which will help to make the colours look more realistic.

You may also want to play around with the other settings again after adding the masking. These are just suggestions, and depending on your photo and lighting you may want to edit it in a different way.

  • Tint: if you want more pink tones in your sunset, slide the cursor towards the right to get more pink tones.
  • Temperature: you may want to increase the temperature to make the image more warm (make it more yellow – slide cursor to the right).
  • Exposure: you may want to lower the exposure (slide the cursor to the left) to give the sky more depth.
  • Contrast: slide the cursor to the right if you want to add a little bit more contrast to the sky.

How to Edit A Sunset Photo in Lightroom – Editing Sunset Photos

5: Use a Range Mask

If you are using Lightroom Desktop to add your graduated filter, you can also use a Range Mask which is a really amazing tool. It can also be quite an important tool when you are editing sunset photos on Lightroom.

Using the Range Mask is important because after applying the graduated filter, if the sunset/sunrise wasn’t a crisp line (eg: you had buildings in the way), then it will mean that not only will the sky change with your adjustments, but also any buildings/people etc would have received these adjustments too.

This can sometimes make the editing look unrealistic. By using the range mask you can avoid this happening.

You won’t need to use the Range Mask if you use the Sky Select tool as this will automatically eliminate this problem.

After applying your graduated filter, before you press done you’ll want to scroll down until you see the option to select Range Mask. Click on it and select Colour. After selecting Colour a pen will appear on the left – this is the Colour Range Selector.

Click on the Colour Range Selector and then select the particular area on your photograph and you’ll then see the pen there. Then you’ll want to select an area of the sky, let go and then you will see the adjustment. When you’re happy with it, click done!


I hope this tutorial on editing sunset and sunrise photos was helpful for you. Feel free to pop any questions you have into the comments section below!

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