Outdoor Photography

Outdoor Photography: Don’t Stop at Sunset

clip_image003.jpgI really enjoyed the article I read today entitled, “Fun, Morning and Evening Lighting Shots,” by Dave Corn. In the article, he wrote:
“….. take the pictures at sunset and continue until the sun is nearly gone! Again, notice the changes in lighting (colors, textures, and contrasts). This is a fun exercise and you will be surprised in the dynamic variations in lighting and contrast you will see from morning to night…..”This is excellent advice for anyone interested in expanding his/her photographic horizons. The soft light of early morning and late evening is great, and can truly enable you to take photographs of a scene that are totally different from the “so-so,” “Ho hum” results of a mid-day shoot, when the lighting is so harsh.

Mr. Corn was also right on with his suggestion to take a tripod. Even with a fast, vibration-damped camera or lens, trying to get a really sharp sunset photo is difficult without a tripod. Sure, you can do it, but most of the photos taken that way are softer than we would prefer. Use either a good tripod, or, at the very least, a rest or a beanbag. Use a fast shutter speed. Use mirror lock-up. Even use a cable release or a remote to trip your shutter. Your photos will be sharper for your efforts.The one area where my thoughts differ from those of Mr. Corn is in his statement, “…..continue until the sun is nearly gone!” To me, that’s stopping way too soon. Many of my best sunset photos were taken as much as 30 minutes after the sun disappeared. Often, the lighting just keeps getting softer and more subtle, and the need for a tripod keeps increasing, but the soft colors of a pretty sunset can also become more and more saturated, negating the need for using PS or other post-processing software.

The following photo was taken exactly 9 minutes after the sun disappeared behind the horizon. Yes, the photos I took of the setting sun were very pretty…but nothing like what I saw after all of the other photographers had packed it up for the day and gone home. I took this one about half a block from my daughter’s home in Burleson, not far south of Ft Worth, Texas. This was captured with a Canon Rebel 350 with a Tamron 28-200 zoom lens:


This photo was not enhanced at all. What you see is exactly what passed through the lens. This one was hand-held, since I didn’t have a tripod with me. I did what I could, though. I placed the camera against a telephone pole for stability, and it seems to have worked fairly well.

Here is another example of a sunset photo taken even longer after the sun had set. I set up for this one on July 2, 2002, and took this shot almost a full twenty minutes after the sun disappeared – with a point-and-shoot camera. The sunset itself was nice, but presented nothing like the deep pinks and purples that appeared a few minutes later. By the time I took this photo, there was not even one other photographer still there with me.

These are only two of the many examples I have that demonstrate the same guideline. For some of your best sunset photos ever, simply don’t be in too much of a hurry to pack up and leave.

Now this isn’t meant to disagree with the excellent advice given by Mr. Corn. I’m just supplementing it, for I think he didn’t go far enough. By all means, take your wide-angle lens with you. You might end up with a prize-winning landscape photo. Take your zoom telephoto, too, for you might well be able to zoom in and get a wonderful photo of a colorful sky naturally framed by an opening in the foliage, or between two trees, or, in an urban environment, even between buildings.

Just as some of my best photos have been taken after the sun disappeared in the evening, I also have many superb images that I took before the sun peeked above the horizon in the early morning. The same guidelines apply.

1. Scout out the location for your shoot in advance. Know where to set up your tripod, and in which direction (and angle) to point your camera. Determine in advance what your aperture setting should be to capture what you want to capture.

2. Get there and set up early – at least 30 minutes before sunrise, or at least 30 minutes before sunset. Take as many shots as you can. With film, this can get expensive, but with digital gear, the shots are free, so take as many as you want. You can always discard the ones you don’t want.

3. Check your local newspaper or the Internet and know the exact time of sunrise and/or sunset for the day you’re going to photograph. Then, be there and be ready.

4. Be safety-conscious. Watch your footing, and don’t travel in the dark where it’s dangerous to do so – especially while toting gear that can unbalance you.

5. From late fall until early spring, and especially at higher elevations, the period just before dawn is often the coldest time of the day. Be prepared and dress for it.

6. When it’s warmer, these are the times when mosquitoes and other pesky insects seem to enjoy bothering me. Use your favorite repellant, but be sure to keep it off your fingers and camera gear.

7. You’ll be shooting toward the sun, so be careful to not look at it through your lens – especially a telephoto or zoom. You don’t need eye damage.

8. Know how to use your camera, and be familiar with the location of the various buttons and dials. You don’t want to ruin your night vision by having to turn on a flashlight to find a button. Be prepared.

9. Use the best equipment that you can afford. You don’t have to own the latest and greatest photo gear to get good pictures. I’ve taken some of my best shots with a point-and-shoot camera. The ability to change lenses with a digital SLR or an advanced fixed-lens camera will improve your shots and give you many more options.

So there you have it. Whatever type of camera you own, film or digital, old or new, know how to use it in the dark….but DO use it. You won’t get even one photo while you’re in bed, asleep, or drinking your morning coffee!

These are all pretty simple guidelines, and you should be able to follow them easily. I hope you’ll try this soon. I’m a morning person. See Tom’s site by clicking his name below.

Contributed by Tom Dillon

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