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How to photograph a sunset

EVERYONE has seen them. Stunning pictures of gleaming sunsets, rich with colour and warmth that seems to reach out beyond the boundaries of the photograph. Whether you are taking an evening stroll across the beach, or just sitting in your local park, this guide will make these breath-taking images possible for everyone.


1. Get out there early, You never know when the best and most beautiful light is going to happen, but it usually happens in a one-minute window, which can be any time within 15 minutes before and after sunset (this, plus the half-hour window at sunrise is what the folks in Hollywood call "magic hour". Consequently, you want to be on location at least half an hour before the sun sets, to give you time to look around and set up.

2. Set up your camera. Besides being out there are the right time, below are some technical trivia to help you set some proficiency with your equipment.

* Play with exposure compensation (the feature of your camera that makes pictures lighter or darker). You want to make sure that you don't end up with large parts of your sky blown out to pure white. Remember, on digital cameras, you can always recover from all but the most terminal underexposure.

* Set your ISO to its lowest setting on digital cameras. The sky at sunset is still bright enough that you can get away with doing this. It will also give you much more latitude for correcting underexposure, as per the above (since doing this in post-processing inevitably brings out any noise present). Don't increase it unless you have to.

* Automatic white balance can sometimes make your colours too cold. Try setting it manually. Many cameras do a reasonable job of this in "Auto". Every camera is different, and some are much smarter than others. Which brings us around to the last point.

* Get to know your camera. Few cameras will get a perfect exposure all the time, and many will require tweaking every time. Some cameras are smarter about photographing sunsets than others. Many will require some degree of exposure compensation. If you're using center-weighted or spot metering, you may find it useful to meter on one of the brighter (but not the brightest) parts of the sky, use your auto-exposure lock, and then recompose.

3. Get in the right place. Move around as much as you can and find the perfect angle. There are an infinite number of angles, locations, and compositions you can play with; some ideas, if you're out of them, follow below.

* If you are near a body of water, experiment with reflections. Use reflections off bodies of water, if you're near one. Get down as low to the water as you dare, or do the opposite and go to the highest angle you can get at, to get an entirely different reflection in the water. Try making your picture nearsymmetrical, or don't, or try taking a photograph of the sunset through its reflection alone.

* A person and a dog silhouetted against a fiery red sky. Look for interesting silhouettes. Try silhouetting trees, people, or anything else against the sky or the sun.

* A panorama made from 3 shots taken on a 29mm lens, and stitched with Hugin. Play with panoramas, if you don't feel that you're getting enough sky into your picture (this is especially so for those with small-sensored digital SLRs). Take several photos with the intent to stitch them together later in software.

* You can use your flash to fill dark parts of your photo in unexpected ways. Try using your flash to illuminate things in unexpected ways. Make sure that your shutter speed doesn't go any faster than your camera's rated flash sync speed; it'll either refuse to fire or (in the case of off-camera flashes) cause a large part of your image to be blacked out (of course, if you're clever about it you can use this to creative effect).

* Experiment with everything. Doing so is free on digital cameras. The more photos you take, the better equipped you will be in future to recognise peak lighting conditions, to figure out what looks good and what doesn't, and so on. If you're on film, shoot as much as you can afford to get developed.

4. Wait for the sun to be in the perfect spot, and then snap a picture (multiple ones if you have the film or memory card space). Exactly what is the perfect moment is a matter for your artistic judgment. If you are out of ideas, wait around for the sun to hide behind a cloud; more often than not you will get very visible sun rays coming from the cloud.

5. Sometimes the best lighting happens not long after sunset, for example 10 minutes after. Don't miss it.

Wait around. Sometimes the most spectacular lighting happens a short while after the sun has gone down. Don't miss it! You don't want to find yourself on the way home (and, worse, stuck in your car) when the sky turns spectacular colours.

6. Develop the film or print out your picture and then enjoy your work of art!


More outdoor photography tips

* Even if it is cloudy or raining, do not freak out! You can use this to your advantage and capture a unique view of the sun setting that is different from the usual (but still beautiful) pictures.

* Use aperture-priority mode on your camera and stop down a little -- points of light will turn into tiny star shapes, called "sunstars" Take your exposure reading on the sky above the sun with the sun just outside the bottom of your frame. Lock that exposure setting (or set it manually) then recompose your image and shoot. This only works if you have an auto-exposure lock or the ability to set metered manual exposures; otherwise just use your exposure compensation till it looks right.

* Some compact (point-andshoot) cameras have a mode for photographing sunsets. Try it out.

* Sunrises can be every bit as dramatic as sunsets, and there is less distortion in the air. Consider getting up early to photograph a sunrise.

Source: New Straits Times - Fri, Oct 22, 2010 - 1Klassifieds
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