Saturday, February 19, 2011

How to take a picture of a good sunset

The best equipment to take a good sunset photo:
Sigma 10-20mm f/4-5.6 EX DC HSM Lens for Canon Digital SLR CamerasTiffen 77mm Circular PolarizerManfrotto 055XPROB Pro Tripod Legs (Black)Tiffen TCND6 P Series ND.6 Graduated Neutral Density Filter (Gray)

What is everyone's favorite scene to capture? The scene that is taken everyday by a cell phone, a point and shoot, a Dslr, a film camera? The Sunset. Often times people capture the sunset on whatever they are taking it with and the sky looks good, but you can't see the foreground at all (water, rocks, land, beach, etc). And a lot of the times you're taking a picture of the sun directly, which at times can be beneficial. 

But I'm here to tell you the secrets of how to shoot a great looking sunset. The tricks to getting the sky perfect, having the foreground well lit, and at the peak times for capturing it. Because you don't want your photos to look like just anybody took them. You don't want your photos looking like EVERYONE else's photos that are right next to you. You want your photos to stand out and really pop! That is what photography is all about. Making your photos different than anybody else's, being unique. 

Setting up for the sunset can take some time. Like any photo you take, you want to make sure it has good composition, good lighting, the right detail, and the content that will make your pictures better than anybody else's. This could mean doing a longer exposure to make the waves or clouds look like they are moving, this could mean using different apertures to make the sun look like a star giving it a "star-burst" affect. So setting up early is very important. I recommend getting there an hour before the sun goes down and start looking for places to shoot. 

Things to look for while setting up for you sunset are rocks, trees, hills, plantation (the less buildings the better), light-towers, driftwood... get what I'm saying? When you are capturing a landscape sunset you want it to be landscape, not everyday buildings that we are surrounded by. The next time you visit an art gallery or photography gallery, see how many buildings or houses there are in their pictures.. Chances are you won't see any or maybe just one.Remember your guidelines for taking the sunset, rule of thirds. Like I said, they are guidelines, you don't HAVE to abide by them, but they are suggested. 

When to capture the sunset:
People usually capture the sunset as the sun is going down so they can get the sky, clouds, and the sun in the picture. They think since the sun is out that that is when the clouds will look the best... Not always the case. Have you ever heard of Twilight Hour? Twilight hour is known as the best time to take sunset pictures. Where you can capture a photo 30 minutes before the sun goes down, and up to 30 minutes after it goes down. I agree with about half of Twilight Hour. I believe capturing a sunset 30 minutes before the sun goes down will give you excellent results, but if you wait more than 15 minutes after it goes down, well then your photos will be nearly dark. 

Whats great about this hour is you get a huge variety of colors throughout the hour or 45 minutes in my case. It can even look like you took the same photos on different days with different sunsets. Once the sun goes down past the horizon doesn't mean it's over, wait for the next 15 minutes and many times it will bring you spectacular results! 

How to take a sunset photo:
Well what's there to know? You just point your camera at the sunset and shoot! Right? No. The trick to taking a good sunset (not all the time) is not even shooting towards the sun. Now why would you do this? Because shooting towards the sun will give you less contrast, more of a headache with the sun creating tons of highlights, and the sun not allowing you to balance your foreground and sky so well. I'm not saying you can't do it, because I have came out with some pretty awesome photos shooting directly at the sun while balancing out the sky/foreground. And I'll go more into in a little bit.. But back to what I was saying. During your twilight hour, try shooting at 90 degrees from the sun. (Make a L with you thumb and index and point your index towards the sun.. wherever your thumb points, shoot that way) So now that you are shooting 90 degrees from the sun you'll be able to use your CPL. Remember, you CPL works THE BEST when it is 90 degrees from the sun. When it's facing towards the sun, it will only be used as a ND filter. Now that you are facing 90 degrees, turn your CPL and see your colors shift to rich colors. 

What is also nice about not facing the sun it allows you to play with your exposures more. You're able to do quick short exposures or long exposures to create movement. You'll also see that the light is softer and warmer. 

As you can see in this photo, the sun is 90 degrees to the right of me. I was able to do a 1/2 second exposure to capture the water in movement. The photo as nice contrast as well and I was able to balance the whole scene. And this was taken 10 minutes after the sun went down.

Now for a photo that was taken 20 minutes before the sun went down:
Like stated above, this photo was taken before the sun went down. I was able to get soft light to give the rocks a nice warm look. Also you can see the water at a 1/2 second exposure. 

What settings should I have my camera at for a sunset?
Although there aren't any set rules, I tend to shoot in high Aperture numbers to get everything in focus and to give me a longer exposure time to play with. Often times people even shoot with different Apertures and shutter speeds for one photo and combined them later in programs called HDR, but that is for much later discussion. 

Shooting at a high Aperture number will help ensure that everything in your photo is in focus. Having the higher number like 18 or 22 will allow less light to come in allowing you to have a longer exposure as well. When it comes to shooting a sunset, you can't always rely on your light meter. Sometimes it is better to over expose your photo (according to your light meter) and sometimes it is better to underexpose it. Every photographer has their own style of shooting and their favorite preferences. Me, I like shooting in high numbers 90 degrees away from the sun with a CPL and doing longer exposures. But that's just me, other people prefer towards the sun. 

Why is my sky coming out good but not my foreground?
Many times this is because the sky you are shooting is too bright. Your camera reads the light that is the brightest and adjusts to that. That is why when you take a sunset with your camera phone, you usually just get the sunset and not the foreground. How can this be fixed?? Easy! 
Tiffen 77mm Color Graduated Neutral Density 0.6 Filter

Cokin H250A P-Series ND Grad Kit

Tiffen TCCGND9 P Series Color Grad ND 0.9 3-Stop Filter (Gray)

How does the ND Grad filter help? It helps by blocking the area of your photo that has more light (sun, clouds, rocks, etc) and helps even your exposure so the whole scene has the same lighting. This will give you a nice balanced photo all around. I HIGHLY recommend buying a ND Grad, it will change your photos significantly! 

Equipment for Sunset photos:
Wide angle lens
Sigma 10-20mm f/4-5.6 EX DC HSM Lens for Canon Digital SLR Cameras
Tamron AF 11-18mm f/4.5-5.6 Di-II SP LD Aspherical (IF) Lens for Nikon Digital SLR Cameras

Circular Polarizer Filter
Tiffen 77mm Circular Polarizer
B+W 77mm Circular Polarizer Filter
B + W 77mm Kaesemann Circular Polarizer Coated Glass Filter
Neutral Density Filter
Tiffen 77mm Neutral Density 0.9 Filter

ND Grad Filter
Tiffen TCCGND9 P Series Color Grad ND 0.9 3-Stop Filter (Gray)

Manfrotto 190XPROB 3 Section Aluminum Pro Tripod
Manfrotto 055XPROB Pro Tripod Legs (Black)

Cable Release
Nikon MC-DC2 Remote Release Cord for Nikon Digital SLR Cameras
Canon Remote Switch RS60 E3

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