30 Dec 2007

How to photograph sunsets - part 2

Photographs of sunsets are really very simple to record because once you have arrived at the correct exposure for the sky, you can adjust your shooting angle and move around to silhouette subjects between you and the sky without worrying about changing exposures at all – you are really just photographing a colourful backdrop (the sky) with shapes in front of it (silhouettes). It is how you position yourself and arrange those shapes that can make or break the picture – and that’s all about good composition.

You will generally create a yawn if you include nothing but sky – no matter how dramatic or colourful it is. Neither will you create any feeling of the place in which the picture was taken. So look for interesting buildings, objects, trees and people doing things and try to include them in your sunset pictures. Often these subjects can be researched and found well before the sun actually sets – we all know it’s going to go down in the west – so a bit of pre-planning can pay dividends.

If we photograph a colourful sunset across an expanse of water, down a rain-soaked street or a snow-covered field, the rich colours will be reflected right into the foreground of the picture. The eye will then be led along these reflections. Photographing over reflective surfaces like this can almost double the colour of the sky.

People can make wonderful subjects for these outline shapes (silhouettes). Depending on what the person is doing, the inclusion of people in your sunset picture can add an immediate sense of romance, atmosphere, action or stillness. However it is vital that the outline of the person included is kept ‘clean’. It’s no use photographing someone running across the beach with a wonderful sunset behind him if his outline shape is obscured by a boat pulled up on the sand, for instance.

Top photograph
Having photographed the Taj Mahal during the day I was determined to return at sunset. I had worked out roughly where the sun would go down and found my way to a spot beside the river where I could position the setting sun behind the building. The atmosphere was absolutely still and a slight haze has diffused the sunlight and put subtle detail in the shadows. The inclusion of the man has added human interest, scale and narrative. Centre-weighted metering mode was used and although the light reading was taken mostly from the sky, part of the building was included. This has helped retain detail in the shadows without over exposing the sky

Centre photograph
For all I know, this couple might have been planning a divorce, but photographed against a setting sun the message is a romantic one. All detail the figures and the bridge has been removed by exposing for the brightness of the sky – this has created strong silhouettes. Even the hard, angular structure of the bridge has added to the composition

Bottom photograph
Even a poor Thai fisherman gathering supper for his family will stop to appreciate the beauty of a sunset over the sea. Don’t be afraid to point your camera straight into the light in these situations. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. The Rule of Thirds is used here – horizon on a top third, man on
right hand third, sun on intersection of two lines

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