Sunday, July 11, 2010

Shooting Beautiful Sunsets

A friend of mine is going to Santorini in a few days time and he asked for an advice on how to shoot great sunsets. It is said that Santorini has the most beautiful sunset of the world. I haven’t been to all over the world, but I’ve been to Santorini and I can say that is absolutely beautiful. In fact, that trip was the reason I started photography; I bought a point-and-shoot camera from the island and started taking pictures. Colors were amazing, the volcano rocks getting into the sea had a wild beauty on them and the small white houses built into the rocks were magical. By the time I came back home, I bought my first DSLR (a Nikon D80) and subscribed to a local photographic community. If you haven’t been to Santorini, I advise you to do so and take some beautiful images!
Well back to our subject. We see beautiful images of sunsets everywhere; in magazines, travel guides, on the internet. In fact we believe that if we’ve been there these amazing sunset colors will be captured by our eyes. Well that’s not true. These dramatic colors can be captured only by the sensor! You see sometimes life is more beautiful through the viewfinder than it is in reality, but that’s why you are dealing with the subject of photography, isn’t it?! It is our job, as photographers, to see the ordinary and capture it as extraordinary…
Shootting stunning sunsets couldn’t be easier! Just follow these steps:
1.            Start with the lowest possible ISO value for best image quality.
2.            Set your camera to Manual Mode and Spot Metering.
3.            Set a small aperture (e.g. f11, f16) for great depth-of-field.
4.            Point the focus-point at a spot near the sun and adjust the shutter speed to zero out the hash mark of the exposure bar displayed in the viewfinder (sunset colors are usually midtones), as shown below:

5.            Check your shutter speed. If you are not on a steady tripod and the shutter speed is not fast enough to get a sharp image by handholding the camera, increase the ISO or open aperture, until you get a fast enough shutter speed (but be aware that sunset skies are prone to digital noise).
6.            Reframe and take the shot! That’s it!

Extra tips
-              If you want richer colors you may underexpose intentionally and set your exposure to -0,5 or even -1,0, depending on the situation.
-              Sunset light (and colors) change very rapidly as the sun moves towards the horizon, so every now and then you have to check your exposure settings by repeating steps 1 – 6.
-              Don’t just photograph the sun in the sky; compose your frame with a subject in the foreground to add interest to your shots. With the procedure described above, your foreground subjects will be displayed as silhouettes (because their reflectance is much lower that the reflectance of the sky). This is an interesting effect, but if this not what you wish, you can avoid it (if you are not far away from your subject and if your subject is not very big) by using flash (off-camera flash works best, but if you don’t have an external flash unit don’t hesitate to use your camera’s build-in flash). Set your flash to iTTL. Start with a flash compensation of -1,7 and adjust accordingly (remember you don’t want to use much light; just a small amount as a fill-light).  

Have fun! You don’t have to be in Santorini; beautiful sunsets happen everywhere (except from your living room) so get out there and create some stunning sunset images!    


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