13/06/2009

Sunsets (Sunrises)



Perhaps the two most common subjects photographed today, would be either “the kids” or “sunsets“. And let me tell you, “No two subjects could be further apart from each other, in my books!”
One can be full of stressful boisterousness, where at times, during a family shoot, you just have no idea where to turn, so you simply give it all away and think, ‘Maybe tomorrow they will be better behaved.’ Tomorrow???
The other most commonly photographed subject, in case you’ve lost the plot already, are those sometimes serene and sensual, but sensational - “Sunsets”. Sunrises have the same appeal, but it is highly likely that unknowingly, a viewer will look on a sunrise photo and automatically accept it as a sunset, so “Sunsets” are what we will refer to, as there is little difference in the actual photographing of either.
There are literally millions of sunsets (or sunrises) photographed throughout the world every day.
“I know, I know, there is only one sunset per day, but you know what I mean!”
Almost everyone of those people who photograph this great phenomenon are of the opinion that their sunset photo would have to be the best ever.
Why? Because they get swept up and carried away with the moment, the colour and the emotion brought on by such a spectacle. But the average sunset photographs, in my opinion are simply two a penny. In other words, you will not get a winning sunset (or sunrise) photo unless yours is very different to everyone else's and you really need to plan and work at it.
The main thing is not to get simply swept up by the moment. You may just get lucky on the night, but chances are, without organizing and planning your shoot, it will turn out just as drab as all the others.So here’s what you need to do…..
If you live (or are on holiday) by the sea and when you stand on the beach, you are facing an Easterly or Westerly direction, the possibilities are fairly high that you will get a reasonably good sunset or sunrise at some time or other, but it is not “just” the sunset that we are concerned with here.
Do you often wonder why your sunset photos lack lustre? More often than not, it is simply due to the lack of other interesting content! They need another  point of interest, other than just the setting sun.
So.....

Go for a stroll along the beach. Take a note of anything there that could be used as an interesting foreground.
For example, an outcrop of rocks, sand dunes, that odd shaped Palm tree, anything at all that might draw or attract interest.
It would be a good idea at this point to also have prior knowledge of where on the horizon the sun is likely to set. I usually have a compass with me for just such occasions.
Once you have found what you would like to add as your foreground feature, stand behind it, as you would be behind your camera and try to visualize what it will look like, half silhouetted, in the dimming light before (and after) the event.
If you are happy about how you will compose your photo/s, keep that picture in mind and you are ready to start shooting.
After finding out what time the sunset will be, you must plan to be there, set-up and ready, at least an hour before that time. During which, you will not be idle. It gives you breathing space to make subtle alterations and adjustments to your position and practice various shots in the diminishing light, working up to when the sun finally starts to fall onto the horizon. At this point turn around and look behind you or to your far left or right. See how the light has suddenly changed your surroundings. Most times folks are so involved with what’s happening in front of them, they tend not to think of what might be happening elsewhere in the sky and/or on the land. 
How does the sky look? If it is interesting enough, include some of it in your shot. And remember, after the sun has gone below the horizon, it is not yet time to pack up - there are many more photo opportunities to be had even after the sun has actually set.
Now you can plan to go out and do it all again the following morning and there will probably be some things you thought about that you should have put into practice during the sunset that you can now put to good use in the sunrise.
All this planning and organizing provides you with a readiness and the confidence to get out there and carry out the shoot. With that in mind and the right equipment, the job is as good as done.

Equipment:
You don’t really need a special camera to take very good sunset photos, but least one that will allow you to use it in low light situations. If your shots are interesting enough, this will surely compensate for any lack of professionalism on your part of your camera.
I would also strongly suggest you get yourself a good tripod. This is because of the low-light situations and slow shutter speeds you will camera will use to get the right exposure in these conditions.
If you own a SLR type camera and you can interchange your lenses, then the faster the lens the better, but if you just have the standard zoom that came with the camera, that is okay too. But I would work on aperture priority and set the aperture to between f11 and f16. Depending on what you want or don’t want in focus.
You will also need something to stabilize your camera in these conditions. As well as the tripod, a remote shutter release would also be an asset, but this is not essential. You can always use the camera’s timer facility or mirror lock-up facility to reduce the possibility of camera movement.
A small pocket torch would also be handy and some spare (pre-charged) batteries for both camera and torch.
You should have a good half hour 




Here's a tip:
If your camera is sophisticated enough to have a spot meter facility, at the highlight of your sunset and you really want a top shot, take a spot meter reading for the brightest part of the sky which does not include the sun and reset those meter readings into your camera and recompose the shot.

Please see Adjustable metering modes
If you can manually adjust your White Balance, try different settings to get different exposures, between "daylight" and "cloudy".