I've spent a lot of time this summer shooting the sunrises at the Housatonic River in Connecticut. I've found that being out before sunrise in the darkness and then watching the day come alive with light is very inspiring--it's worth the effort. (See the previous post for some tips on shooting sunrises and sunsets.) There's a gallery of shots of the river on my main site.
Like all photographers, I have always enjoyed photographing sunsets. Let's face it, with nature doing a lot of the heavy lifting for you, sunsets are almost always pretty to look at and relatively easy to shoot successfully. But there are a few tips that you can use--with almost any camera--to come up with even more dramatic results. Here are five that are always in my mind when I'm shooting sunsets and sunrises:
Find a creative foreground subject. Sunset skies are very pretty, but they work far better if you can provide an interesting frame to hang them in--in other words, an interesting foreground. Having a good foreground helps to create more visual interest and also helps to identify where you are shooting: a sailboat puts you near the ocean, a saguaro cactus puts you in the desert.
Think in terms of silhouettes. It's usually (though not always) almost impossible to get good saturated color in the sky and detail in the foreground, so the subjects that work best as a foreground are opaque or solid, like the tree I used here. Silhouetting your subjects also helps to reveal all of their detail.
Hide the sun a bit. Shooting directly into the sun causes all sorts of problems with exposure and lens flare (and is also dangerous for your eyes, so always look slightly away). By hiding the sun behind your subject a bit, you avoid some of these problems by putting something in front of the sun. In this shot I was careful to put the sun right between the main stalks of the tree so that you could see it, but most of the brightness of the sun was hidden by the tree.
Arrive before sunset. Since finding an interesting foreground is something that takes a bit of exploring, it's better if you get to your location an hour or so before sunset so that you can scout around a bit. It's a terrible feeling to have a spectacular sunset in front of you and have to panic looking for a good composition. I shoot this tree often and so when I think there might be a good sunset, I head right for it.
Expose carefully. Even with a good camera metering system, if you aim right at the sunset you're going to get a very underexposed scene. If your camera has an exposure lock (almost all camera have one built into the shutter-release button), then aim the camera away from the sun until the sun is just out of the frame. Then hold your shutter button halfway down and recompose the shot with the sun. But remember, exposure and focus are usually tied together using this feature so be sure to focus on something specific--either the horizon or the foreground subject, whichever you want sharp.
David Kennerly has been one of my photo heroes since my mother bought me his book "Shooter" for Christmas one year (a wonderful book). Kennerly won the Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of the Vietnam war (and is, I believe, one of only a few Pulitzer Prize winners from that war to still be alive). He was also Gerald Ford's personal photographer and was the first photographer in history to have almost unlimited access to a sitting president. I'm not big fan of cell-phone photography, but I've seen a lot of Kennerly's work shot with the iPhone that he has shared on Facebook and it's quite amazing. To create this book he spent a year (2013) traveling around the world shooting a photo a day with the iPhone. The book contains anecdotes, essays and tips on iPhone photography. he book. In the Amazon description it says, "Along the way he discovered that paring down his formidable photo arsenal to a single, simple camera forced him to sharpen his eye and made him an even better photographer." And what a good lesson that is for all photographers: create the images in your brain and the camera will follow! Holidays coming, great present!
My most recent interview for Motion Arts Pro Daily has gone live and the subject is Dave Surber, a really interesting still and motion photographer. He has worked on everything from commercials and television productions to video newsgathering and mobile events; he’s also been the DP on several feature films and just finished working as DP on the Team Nike series, a 12-episode collection of black-and-white shorts about the Nike World Basketball Festival Tournament of Champions. His most recent collection of shorts, the Big City Hustle series, is a very cool look at some fascinating New York creatives. Check out my interview with Dave, I think you'll find it a very entertaining behind-the-scenes look at a successful young filmmaker.
I shot this a few weeks ago as the "super moon" rose above the Housatonic River. The moon was hidden by clouds when it was at the horizon but the sky cleared as the moon rose. I shot this with a 70-300mm Nikkor lens at 300mm (450mm on my Nikon body). I shot the image in RAW and adjusted the white balance slightly toward blue in the conversion. My best advice for exposing the full moon is to use minus exposure compensation to keep the moon from burning out to white. I used -1.33 stops of exposure for this frame. There's going to be another big moon in September, so go find a nice foreground and be ready at twilight--the moon usually rises just as the sun is setting.
My new book on color The Photographer's Master Guide to Color is available on Amazon--and it's about a month early, which is great. I started the book just about a year ago and finished it this past winter. The book covers a lot of ground and begins with a survey on the history of color theory, starting with the earliest cave painters and their attempts to mix colors and then goes into some detail about Sir Isaac Newton and his creation of the first color wheel. The book then takes a fairly detailed look at the way that color can be used, exploited and manipulated in color photography. It is, in short, a pretty comprehensive look at the subject of color.
I think the most interesting thing in writing this book was the research that I did before I actually began writing. It was a very hot and humid July when I first started the research and I spent about two months on my couch in front of a fan reading every book I could find about color and color theory. While I thought I was already pretty well versed in the topic before I started my research, I learned so very much--and it's a fascinating story. There is nothing like having an excuse to focus on one interesting subject for a long period of time.