20 Top Tips Sunrise & Sunset (Part 1)

8/21/2012 9:33:36 AM

Pro photographer Alex Nail reveals his 20 top tips for taking stunning sunrise and sunset photographs.

1.    Atmospheric visibility

Atmospheric visibility

Having good visibility is best for sunset or sunrise images because it reveals the best light. Often the clearest times come after heavy rain. There are, however, exceptions to this rule. When the visibility is an atmospheric haze combined with dark cumulus clouds, the sun peeking through can create amazing sun rays.

2.    Reduce vibrations

Description: Reduce vibrations

Reduce vibrations

Around the golden hour, light levels are lower than during the day. In order to shoot with a low ISO and a small aperture, a tripod is essential. Use Mirror Lock Up if your camera has it, and set the self-timer or a shutter release to cut vibrations down further. A tripod should be stabilised by protecting it from the wind or hanging a weight from the centre column.

3.    Look behind you

Description: look behind

Often the most spectacular part of the sky is directly opposite the sun, and this is particularly true if there are high altitude clouds around. The balanced light levels between foreground and sky should also make it easier to produce a correct exposure. Just be careful that direct sunlight doesn’t shine through your viewfinder and throw your settings. Take a test shot and tweak your settings if necessary.

4.    Reflections

Description: Reflections

Sunrise and sunset present and excellent opportunity to capture colourful reflections in water and ice. Still water creates a strong connection between the sky and ground, and direct sunlight on moving water can be accentuated with a long shutter exposure making the colour spread across the surface. Reflecting a mixture of land and sky in ice will reveal is structure and provide a texture-rich shot.

5.    White balance

Description: White balance

Sunset light is likely to be more red and orange than at midday. You can use a white balance of 5,500k to reveal this warmth but a white balance of 4,500k will produce better results, making the sky even more stunning. If you shoot RAW then you can experiment with the white balance at the post-processing stage.

6.    Use filters

Description: Use filters

Neutral-density graduated filters are used to balance the exposure by holding back the brightness of the sky while keeping the exposure of the foreground as it reads. A polarizer will increase saturation, remove reflections, cut through haze and improve cloud contrast. To get the best results you should keep your filters clean and scratch free.

7.    Sidelight

The low, soft light produced at sunrise and sunset is excellent for revealing the form of your subjects, particularly when side-lit. Look for interesting foreground shapes and textures to make your composition stronger. You can use a polarizer to bring out the sky and provide your image with a dynamic impact.

Description: White balance, use filters, and sidelight

White balance, use filters, and sidelight

8.    Balance and flow

Description: Balance and flow

Composition is just as important when photographing a sunrise or sunset as it is for any other subject. Don’t let an amazing sky overpower your image. Concentrate on the structure, flow and balance of your image and keep the horizon level. It’s easy to be dazzled by the light and forget the other elements.

9.    Careful planning

Careful planning and preparation will produce wonderful results. You should scout locations on grey days and plan for better light. Set custom modes on you camera to ensure you aren’t fiddling with controls when time is short. Use internet image searches to get a feel for the location before you arrive.

10. Take your time

Time can be critical when the light is good, but that doesn’t mean you should rush. Set up your camera and tripod as quick as you can, but spend time ensuring that your composition and exposure are correct. One great shot is better than 10 average ones, so stay focused and concentrate.

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