If it’s the late afternoon in Malibu, you can likely find Dana Rubin at the beach.

This isn’t just because the photographer loves the sea and the sand – though that comes with living in Malibu. It’s because every afternoon, nature itself provides the type of lighting that designers can spend hours in a studio trying to duplicate. The harsh rays of the overhead sun have softened, making portraits more flattering.

“I’ve done a couple [shoots] in the morning” she says. “[Sunset] is when I take my photos, because that’s when the lighting is nicest.”

Anyone staying at the Malibu Beach Inn will have one of the most scenic views in all of southern California, with the sun going down over the Pacific Ocean. And while your smartphone snaps may not end up framed on walls of homes and galleries like those taken by the 25-plus-year photography veteran, you can take the best sunset photos to post on your social media feed of choice. Think of this small handful of tips next time you’ve got the urge to capture the end of the day.

Tips to Capture Sunset Photos

Malibu sunset photos

Zoom Out: If there is one idea Rubin comes back to time and again, it’s to make sure you’re leaving space for everything you want in the photo. Even if you know you want the final product to be a square that lines up perfectly on your Instagram feed, that’s a decision you can make after the sun’s gone down; you can later crop the photo how you wish to cut bits out, but you can’t add more to it.

“Give yourself room,” Rubin says. “Shoot for what you want to shoot – that way you can decide later what you want to cut out.”

It’s the Light: As the sun starts to set, the light gets softer. Then the colors start to come out. As the colors deepen and the sun gets lower on the horizon, people start to become backlit, which can create silhouettes. And, after the sun is gone, there’s still the “blue hour,” when the sun has sunk behind the horizon, but its deflected light looks blue. Which one will work best for the subject of your photo? It depends on what you want.

“It’s really best, if you’re going to have a physical subject, to get [the shot] before [the sun]’s too low,” Rubin says. “Or you’re not going to have enough light, and it’s going to make them a silhouette.”

But if you want that silhouette, you then know that those fleeting last moments before the sun disappears is when to make your way to the sand.

Keep it Simple

Listen to Your Gut: Read even a little bit about photography on the internet, and you’re likely to run into the phrase “rule of thirds.” It’s a guideline that some shutterbugs use to describe ideal framing in a photo: rather than lining up the subject in the middle of the photo, put them a third of the way in from either side. As a general idea, it’s fine, but Rubin likes keeping it simple.

“I just don’t know how much I would focus on something like that,” she says, “because I think it makes something technical that you’re trying to be artistic about.”

Even on its best settings, you’re not going to be taking sunset photos destined for magazine covers or gallery exhibits. These are photos for you (and maybe your social media friends). In the end, the best sunset photos are ones that makes you happy.