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by Andy McInroy
Print Of The Month - September 2007
A Guide to Sunset Photography

To me, sunsets are amongst the most challenging of landscape subjects. A dramatic sunset sky is relatively easy to capture but when you also have foreground elements that you wish to include, it becomes a great deal more difficult. Not only do you have to deal with extremes of contrast, but you also have to contend with lens flare and the challenge of exposure tradeoffs.

So rather than a story this month, hereís my top 6 tips to a successful sunset photograph.

1. Use Your Cover. Use clouds and haze to your advantage to control the brightness of the sun. Photograph the sun just as it emerges from clouds and before the contrast goes through the roof. Alternatively, wait until the very last moments of the sunset when the sun is filtered by the low haze.

2. Remember to Blink. Donít panic if the sun blinks out a warning in your LCD. Thereís very little you can do about this overexposure unless you are willing to sacrifice the rest of your scene to underexposure. Just ignore it and concentrate on the sky and clouds surrounding the sun. These should not be blinking and you should apply exposure compensation to prevent this. Otherwise youíll just have an overexposed blob of sun/sky/cloud mess.

3. Graduate to a Grad. Use a suitable strength of neutral graduated filter to help you balance your exposure between the dark foreground and bright sunset sky. Just watch out for the additional lens flare this can cause. Also beware of causing stillwater reflections to become brighter than the sunset above. Choose your grad strength carefully.

4. Dodge the Shadows. Modern digital cameras can see quite deep into shadows. Use your dodge tool to bring out this hidden detail in postprocess. The same technique can be used to disguise the telltale signs of a graduated filter. Shoot RAW if your camera can as this will allow more freedom to postprocess the tricky exposure.

5. Be a Nerd. Forget the photo mags and instead study your sunset times, azimuths, tide tables and maps! Try to understand where and when the sun will set. Be there in plenty of time and scout around beforehand to achieve the best angle. Also learn to read the synoptic weather charts. Get out at the tail end of the weather fronts where the clouds are rising and breaking.

6. Donít Look Back in Anger. Never turn your back on a setting sun when you think itís all over. Sometimes the red underglow can surprise you and last only a few seconds. Just because you can't see the sun doesn't mean the clouds above you can't. The shepherd might be delighted to see a red sky, but you certainly won't be if you see one in your rear view mirror !

And perhaps most importantly,
the sun does not always shine on TV. Get out there and let the sunsets come to you.

Landscape Photograph

Sunset Supernova
Tullagh, Inishowen County Donegal

Technical Details
Date/Time: 8.48pm 16th August 2007
Exposure time: 1 second
Aperture: F19
Focal Length: 14mm (APS Sensor)
Lens: Pentax 14mm DA
Camera: Pentax K10D
Filtration: Lee Neutral Graduated Filter (2 stops, to balance exposure)

Text and photos © Andy McInroy