Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Photographing Sunsets

12 minutes before sunset

Magic Hour
Everyone loves a sunset. There’s a magic to the multi-hued sky, the moment when the sun is slipping below the horizon and the day is almost done.

Getting the best images of a sunrise or sunset requires planning, preparation and persistence. I look at the event in three phases: golden hour, which begins (or ends in the morning) when the sun is 10 degrees above the horizon; the moments right around sunrise or sunset; and blue hour, the period when the sun is between 3 and 10 degrees below the horizon. Depending on the time of year and latitude, the whole event takes between two and three hours.

Golden hour is the time for those brilliant warm colors and low sun angles that add pop and contrast to your image. If sky conditions are just right, you can get a range of colors from pinks and oranges to blues and violets, usually in the 20-30 minutes before and after the moment when the sun breaks the horizon. Blue hour provides its own beauty, with the sky still showing and enough light to render foreground objects in cool, often monochrome, colors.

Moment of sunset

On Location

I like to get to my location early, either in the pre-dawn darkness for sunrise or late afternoon for sunset. I’ll scout out and determine my precise location, framing and composition. To help determine exactly where on the horizon the sun will set or rise, I use a phone app such as Helios or Sun Surveyor.

You’ll want a sturdy tripod, as exposures will get longer the later it gets, and a cable release. I also recommend a graduated neutral density filter to balance the bright sky against the darker foreground. And please … don’t stare at the sun. Be careful of your eyes and your camera’s sensor. In the three images here, the entire range of pre- and post-sundown light is shown. The subject is the famous Ghost Tree along 17-Mile Drive in Carmel, Calif., looking out over the Pacific Ocean.

The first shows the sun above the horizon, about 12 minutes before sunset. I had a great dramatic, orange sky. The next image, which I rendered in black & white, shows the sun right on the horizon. The colors were already fading. About 11 minutes later, I made the final shot in the blue light, which I emphasize by adjusting the color balance toward the blue tones. Exposures ranged from ⅕ second to 3.2 seconds, all at f/22 and ISO 100. Each image has a different mood, and the sequence shows what you can do with a little patience.

Blue hour
See more images at DBZphoto.com