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Sunrise, Sunset

Send me your questions, ideas, observations and tips on photography. I will attempt to answer, and/or comment, and maybe even publish some of them.


Yep, I know, it’s July and time for celebration, fireworks, and flares. I have written about how to take pictures of these in previous columns, all of which can be found in my column archives This month I want to talk about our spectacular sunsets for those of us on the east side of the lake, and sunrises for those of you on the west side; although those sunrises mean getting up pretty early this time of year.

Sunrise/sunset are wonderful to see and experience but can be difficult to capture. This is because there is such a wide difference in light, from very dark to very light, and this can and does confuse almost any type of camera.

Your eyes see three times the range of light then your camera can see. So, if you want a picture of what you are seeing, your camera isn’t actually capable of fully capturing that range. You need to OWN that camera and be prepared to tell it what you want, not what it thinks you want. This is the difference between a snapshot and an image. An image shows the world what you saw and how you saw it.

Depending on what you use, your phone’s camera, a point and shoot camera or a high-end Digital Single Lens Reflex [DSLR], or anything in between, you may want to consider learning how to use some of the settings available to you on all of these devices.

Look for interesting places where you might not only be able to see the sun track all the way down but where there will be opportunities for shots that include foreground elements and silhouettes. Sunsets only take half an hour or so, so you want to think about these elements before they start or you might miss the shots you’re after.

Keep an eye on the weather also. There are a variety of different types of sunsets that produce a range of different types of lights and patterns in the sky. Don’t just go for clear days for these shots – while they can produce some wonderful colors it’s usually the times when there is cloud around that the real action happens! Also be aware of days when there is dust or smoke in the air as they can produce amazing results also.

Consider ahead of time what equipment you might need. Include a tripod, lenses that will give you a range of focal lengths, extra batteries etc.

Shoot at a variety of focal lengths – wide angle can create sweeping landscape shots but if you want the sun itself to be a feature of the shot you’ll want to be able to zoom right in.

Keep in mind that the sun is just half a degree across so when you shoot with a wide lens it will only be taking up a reasonably small part of the photo. If you want it to be a feature of your shot you’ll need to zoom in on it using anything from a 200 mm [4X] lens upwards. This will increase your need for a tripod!

As with all photos, sunsets need a point of interest and one of the best ways to add one to a picture is to try to incorporate some sort of Silhouette into the shot.

Remember the rule of thirds in your photographing of sunrises and sunsets. While you can always break the rule it’s often a good idea to place elements like the horizon, sun, silhouettes etc off center.

If you let your camera decide what shutter length to shoot at you’re likely to get a shot that doesn’t really capture the beauty of the light. Quite often the shot will be under exposed because the sky is still reasonably light.

Instead of relying upon the camera’s auto mode a sunset is an ideal time to switch your camera into aperture or shutter priority mode and to take a variety of shots at different exposures.

The great thing about sunsets and sunrises is that there is no one ‘right’ exposure and that you can get stunning results using a variety of them. Also keep in mind that different exposures (aperture and shutter speeds) will produce a variety of different results so it’s worth taking more than just a few shots – the key is to experiment.

Another technique to try to get the right exposure is ‘bracketing’ where you look at what the camera suggests you take the picture at and then take a few shots at both under and over that mark. E.g. if your camera says to shoot at 1/60th of a second at f/8 you would shoot off a shot at 1/60 at f/5.6 and then at f/11. In doing so you end up with a series of shots at different exposures which will all give you slightly different results and colors. Most DSLR’s and some point and shoot digital cameras have a built-in bracketing feature so you don’t need to do this manually – learn how to use it!

When you set your camera to ‘Auto’ in its white balance mode you run the risk of losing some of the warm golden tones of a sunrise or sunset. Instead, try shooting in ‘cloudy’ or ‘shade’ which are usually used in cooler lights and tell your camera to warm things up a little. Alternatively – if you’re shooting a sunrise and DO want a cooler moody shot you can experiment with other white balance settings.

Other Tips

Manual Focus – sometimes when shooting in extreme lighting conditions some cameras can have trouble focussing. If this is the case for your camera consider switching to manual focus to ensure you get nice crisp shots.

Look around you – The wonderful thing about sunsets is that they not only create wonderful colors in the sky in front of you but they also can cast a beautiful golden light that is wonderful for other types of photography. As the sunset progresses, keep an eye on other opportunities for shots around you (not just in front of you). You might find a great opportunity for a portrait, landscape shot, and macro shot and so on, behind you in the golden light.


On a side note, I will not be writing a column for the August 2020 issue, and maybe the September issue as well. By the time you read this, I will have undergone a full shoulder replacement of my left shoulder, and will be diligently working on my recovery and physical therapy

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