The following article was contributed by Roie Galitz, from http://www.galitz.co.il.
This Tutorial will deal with sunset photography, and will cover the following subjects:
1. Why Sunsets – For millions of years, relentlessly, the sun rises and the sun sets. Still, after seeing the sun sets for hundreds of times, we are still touched every single time. The sight of the life-giving sun, saying farewell, leaving us with the dark night, always catches us. The sunset doesn’t end when the great disk goes down in the sky, we can keep on shooting until the last of the twilights is gone into the night.
2. Guiding Rules – Firstly, the sky is what it is all about; this is why we must try and not over expose them. The sun is just as important, so we would like to give it some emphasis. Lastly, just the sunset by itself it not that interesting, this is why the frame should be enriched with other elements.
3. Light Metering – I hope you know the basics of light metering, and if not, this is a good time to learn a bit about it. As you know metering is a very important aspect of the photo. Having a bit of under-exposure, will allow you to get live and vivid colors of the setting sun. There are two ways to achieve correct exposure when shooting the sun:
A. Spot Meter – Set your camera on the spot metering mode, select a location about 30 degrees off the sun and take your meter. (Of course, you can meter from anywhere else in the sky and get different results, don’t be afraid to experiment).
B. Negative Exposure Compensation – when feeling lazy, you can set your camera for negative compensation of 2/3 to 2 stops, depending on the situation.
4. Focal Length – There are two ways to use focal length to our advantage in a sunset picture:
A. Long focal length (140mm and up) – This type of lens will allow us to see the sun as a big disk. This way the sun is given a great emphasis in the picture. You can use shades to create a unique/romantic look.
B. Short focal length – a wide lens – this will enable you to get the sky with a wide angle, and to capture the gradient from sunset to night. It will make for a very interesting picture, and the sun will look very small.
The following picture is a panorama of two pictures.
5. Weather – The most interesting sunsets are those where light clouds and haze are in the sky. The haze will make a very dramatic sky. The sunlight coming through the clouds will create deep reds and purples, which will help you create a strong scene.
6. Silhouettes – silhouettes are created when we try to keep the picture metering with a strong back light source, thus creating under exposure for front objects. You can use the sunlight (or sunlight residues) for back light.
7. Focus – We are trying to lock the focus on the sky, which have no contrast at all. If we leave the camera on automatic focus, the sensor will have difficulties locking. This is why you have to set the camera on manual focus and set the focus distance to infinity. If you don’t do so, the camera, might not be able to lock the focus, and you will end up with a blurred picture.
8. Aperture – You might want to try and set the aperture to the smallest aperture possible – This will result in a big depth of field and help avoid a “sun-smear”. When setting the aperture to its smallest values can also result with a nice effect of making the sun look like a star.
9. White-Balance (WB) – Mostly it is best to keep the WB settings at auto. I have learned that usually that will result in a nice well balanced image. Sometimes, I set the WB to Flash. WHY? For creativity ;). This will result in strong reds, and a nice sunset mood.
10. Long Exposure – After the sun sets, and the light is low, we can expose another weapon – the long exposure. Where the scene has moving objects, like people, we can end up with quite and interesting frame. Setting long exposure, when the sea is in the frame, will create a smooth/misty surface, depending on the amount of waves. Sometimes, when the sun has just set, the light is still too strong, you can use an ND filter to reduce the light brightness.
11. Composition – Well the basic rule is keep the sun up and the sea down. No, really now, is best to place the sun at one of the sides of the frame, rather than at the center, this will help you to create more interest in the frame. Also, try and place some other interesting objects in the frame, other then the sun.
12. Post Processing – This is our photo lab, where we can develop the pictures we took. What can we do here? We can for example select the sky and add some red using the curves tool, or select the water and add some blue tones.
13. Warning – Do not look directly at the sun, no matter what! Not with your bear bare eyes, and not through the eyepiece, it can cause irreversible damage to your eyes.
14. Summary – well, it turns out that sunset photography can be trickier than what you initially thought. If you can get the ingredients together, you can end up with a very nice frame. Just keep in mind that it is very easy to turn a sunset photo into a cliche. There are no magic tricks here – keep your eyes open and look for a scene you did not see anywhere before, a scene that will make the watcher say wow.