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Capturing the Sun

Wednesday, November 21st, 2007 by | Filed Under: Digital Photography

Sunsets and sunrises. They’re two plain words, but in photography, they assume huge significance when you realize it’s not such an easy thing to capture them on your memory chip. They usually turn out to be too over exposed or too under exposed. Or, even worse, the timing can be all wrong. Well, here are a few tips you can follow that can help you take stunning sunset and sunrise photos. After all, no good travel photo album is complete without them. Here we go!

Plan For It

Most times, we take pictures by default. The sunset just happened to be there and you just aimed your camera and took the picture. But, this is where we go wrong most of the time. It’s important to think ahead. Not that sunrise and sunset shots can’t be taken spontaneously, but the best ones come from a little planning. First of all, scope out the places that might be good for sunsets a day or two before your shoot. Look for interesting places where you might not only be able to see the sun track all the way down, but where there will be opportunities for shots that include foreground elements and silhouettes.

It’s also good to find out when the sun will set or rise and get there at least half an hour beforehand. The real magic usually happens around that time. Keep an eye on the weather as well. There are a variety of different types of sunsets that produce a range of different types of lights and patterns in the sky. Don’t just go for clear days for these shots. I mean, while they can produce some wonderful colors, it’s usually the times when there are clouds around that the real action happens. Also, be aware of days when there is dust or smoke in the air, as they can produce amazing results too!

Try Different Angles

Shoot at a variety of focal lengths. Wide angles can create sweeping landscape shots, but if you want the sun itself to be the feature of the shot, you’ll want to be able to zoom right in. Keep in mind that the sun is just half a degree across, so when you shoot with a wide lens, it will only be taking up a reasonably small part of the photo. If you want it to be a feature of your shot, you’ll need to zoom in on it, using anything from a 200mm lens upwards. That will increase your need for a tripod as well.

Use Silhouettes

As with all photos, sunsets need a point of interest and one of the best ways to add one to a picture is to try to incorporate some sort of silhouette into the shot. This could be something large, such as a mountain range, something that is part of the environment, like a palm tree, a pier or it could even be a person. The great thing about silhouettes is they add mood and context to a sunset or sunrise shot.

Keep Your Subject Off Center

Remember the rule of thirds when photographing sunrises and sunsets. While you can always break the rule, it’s often a good idea to place elements, such as the horizon, sun, silhouettes, etc. off center.

Carry the Right Equipment

When you are out shooting sunrises and sunsets, carry extra batteries and lenses that will give you a range of focal lengths. And not to mention, a tripod. If you’re shooting at longer shutter speeds and with longer focal lengths, a tripod or some other way of ensuring your camera is completely still is essential.

Use Manual Focus

Sometimes when shooting in extreme lighting conditions, some cameras can have trouble focusing. If this is the case with your camera, consider switching to a manual focus to ensure you get nice, crisp shots.

Wait For Your Shot

Whenever you’re on your shoot, look around you. This will not only make you more observant, but you will see things you hadn’t noticed earlier. The wonderful thing about sunsets is they not only create wonderful colors in the sky right in front of you, but they can also cast a beautiful golden light that is wonderful for other types of photography. As the sunset progresses, keep an eye on other opportunities for shots around you (not just in front of you). You may find a great opportunity for a portrait, landscape shot, macro shot, etc. You just never know!

Don’t Give Up

A sunset or sunrise constantly changes over time and can produce great colors well after the sun goes down or appears, so keep shooting at different exposures and focal lengths until you’re sure it’s all over.

Have fun capturing the sun!

~ Zahid H. Javali

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