Photographing sunrise and sunset
- Words by Richard I’Anson
Everyone takes sunrise and sunset photographs from time to time. It’s almost an initiation rite on the path to becoming a photographer!
There’s not much skill required to take sunset photographs. Generally, all you need to do is point your camera in its general direction and you’ll get something that is bright and colourful. And your viewers will love these photographs.
Try to include something interesting in the foreground or middle ground. Generally speaking, the foreground or middle ground will be a silhouette, because the sunset or sunrise itself will be much brighter, and you’ll be pointing your camera directly into the sun.
If you include the sun in the photo, sunlight will directly enter your lens. It can bounce around inside a bit and create flares and haloes. There’s not much you can do about this, although the effect can be altered depending on the aperture selected (a smaller aperture will produce a smaller flare).
If in doubt about your exposure, try underexposing by one or two stops as you will get better colour saturation.
Rather than photographing the sunset itself, turn around and see what’s happening elsewhere. It’s the light from the sunset that makes great landscape photographs, rather than the sunset itself.
There are a couple of issues to be aware of:
When the sun is below the horizon, behind cloud, or isn’t in the frame, meter readings are usually accurate. If the sun is in the frame, override the recommended meter settings or the image will be underexposed (leaving you with a well-exposed sun in the middle of a dark background).
This effect is exaggerated with telephoto lenses. To retain colour and detail in the scene take a meter reading from an area of sky adjacent to the sun and then recompose.
Modern cameras with advanced metering systems handle these situations pretty well, but it’s still worth using a couple of extra frames and overexposing by half a stop and one stop to be sure.
Bracketing sunrises and sunsets is recommended, particularly if the sun is in the frame. If you have a compact camera avoid including the sun in your composition, or at least take a couple of shots: one with and one without the sun.
My first inclination with sunsets is to find a subject – boats or swaying palms, usually – to silhouette against the bright, coloured sky. However, the intense colours, interesting clouds and not-so-common lake-like reflections in the sea on this particular evening didn’t need any support.
You don’t always get lens flare when the sun is in the frame; it depends on atmospheric conditions, the angle at which the sun strikes the lens and the quality of the lens.
Street photography more your thang? Check out this blog on streetscapes.
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