It's easy to look at a pretty sunset or sunrise and think that nature will do all of the work for you when it comes to photographing it. With all that color and drama, what's not to like? But you can improve any sunset/sunrise by simply finding a good foreground to place in front of it. Because you want the colors and cloud patterns (or sky reflections, if you're near the water) to dominate the shot, you want your foreground subject to be simple, yet interesting. Also, because it's likely that your foreground will end up entirely in silhouette, you also want a subject that's bold enough to be reduced to lines and shapes and still add interest to the photograph.
I took this shot of the rigging in a commercial fishing boat in Galilee, Rhode Island and I really like the way the complex web of stays and ropes creates such interesting patterns. It took me a while to find the shot though--even though I had been scouting around the harbor an hour or so before sunset. I was really hoping to get a shot of a boat pulling into or out of the harbor, but all the boats were tied up for the night. After walking around the marina in a slight state of panic for what seemed like an eternity (it was probably only about 10 minutes), afraid that I might miss this great sunset and not get a good shot, I looked up into the rigging of this boat and knew it would make a great shot. I planted my tripod on the dock and fired off a few dozen shots as the sky grew more intense and then started to fade, shifting my position slightly after each few frames.
Scouting ahead of time is the real key to finding a good sunset foreground. I've always found it's better to sacrifice an hour of late-afternoon shooting to do more scouting if I think there's going to be a great sunset, because I know that the combination of an interesting foreground and a great sunset make really pretty photos. Better yet, scout earlier in the day, at midday perhaps, and just be sure you get back to your sunset location in time to catch the sky show.
The Treetop Temple in Kyoto of Kiyomizu-dera
13 hours ago