Sunset Disappointment 1
We all love the colours and natural splendour of a good sunset don’t we. But there’s more to shooting a sunset than camera settings and even composition. There’s research and an element of luck involved too.
This video was intended to be about composing and exposing a sunset. We checked the weather forecast, which looked favourable, and there’s a great sunset location near where I live so as temperatures plummeted we headed off to Hatchet Pond in The New Forest.
It didn’t deliver the goods
There was a band of thick low haze on the horizon, which blocked out the sun, making the colours wishy-washy. It was windier out there than expected so the water was choppy. When calm, this is a perfect sunset location because you get great reflections.
The sun doesn’t set in the same place every day, so to get the best sunsets (and sunrises) you have to think about time of year. In the video you’ll see the same location shot only 4 or 5 months earlier and the sun’s in a totally different place. Awkward beasts suns!
As a true sunset shoot this was a washout. We kinda knew it would be as soon as we arrived but figured we were there so filmed anyway, because you never know…. But on this occasion we were out of luck and I was tempted to delete the footage.
Then I thought about all the times I put effort into going somewhere after work to shoot a sunset and was disappointed. How many others are affected by that? How can you make the best of a bad job because what if you’re somewhere you’ll never visit again?
If you shoot RAW you have a good chance of salvaging something for your efforts in Lightroom when you make your jpg. You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, but you can rescue the situation to some extent. Which has to be better than nothing.
Now, I know the purists will say they don’t want to do post production and want to ‘get it right in the camera’. And I agree with that sentiment, the second part not the first. Either you let your camera do the post production when it converts your RAW to a jpg, or you can do it yourself. So some level of post gets done somewhere along the line. Personally I’d prefer to do it myself.
Concentrate on getting the sunset exposed correctly so there’s maximum data in the RAW file. You need a good starting point and if the exposure isn’t the best it can be it limits what you can do in Lightroom.
Histograms are a great help because they don’t lie. Our eyes do! As light levels drop and our pupils enlarge, the LCD on the back appears to be brighter than it is. That can lead to thinking the sunset is over exposed so we darken it to what our eyes say is correct. Only to find we’ve actually under exposed and blocked out the shadows.
Usually the camera’s evaluative metering does a good job exposing for a sunset, but always check your histogram and tweak it is you need to.
How should you compose a sunset?
Personally I prefer to see more than just sky. I like to see the location and how the sunset plays on it. Wherever that may be. In the video you’ll see how time of year (position of sun in sky) makes a big impact on composition.
In the ‘Good’ shot I was not only was the sun in the right place, I was lucky enough to have heavy clouds one side and clear sky the other. There was backlight on the lake shore making little highlights. And a clam day made the lake like a mirror too.
To get make the best of a bad sunset you have to really think things through. Try different positions, compositions, angles and don’t be lazy. Experiment with different settings and focal lengths to get the best out of what’s in front of you. Make that raw as good as it can be both technically and creatively.
In part 2 I’ll take you through some rescue options in Lightroom to make the best of a bad job.
The 7 Building Blocks of Photography has massively improved my photography overall. It has made me think about how I want an image to look, rather than just going out looking for an image, then get home and be disappointed. My approach now is to visualise, construct it block by block then make it happen. My 'hit rate' has soared.
- Neil Hanson -