Sunrises and sunsets lure photographers all the time. I’m sure that many a dramatic rise or set planted the seed for a photographer to begin his or her career-making pictures.
Colorful skies intrigue photographers for good reason. Dramatic cloud formations provide fodder for great photos. While a colorful sunrise or sunset itself can often stand on its own, the seasoned photographer can add to its impact. Use the following methods to help bring your sunrise/sunset images to new heights.
Sizzling rises and sets develop in multiple ways dependent upon clouds, weather and position of the sun. Impending or receding storms are often associated with great skies. It’s at the edges of these fronts where clouds provide drama and impact. Ideally, storm clouds appear high in the sky and the horizon is unobscured. The sun illuminates the dark storm clouds and makes them pop. When the sun is below the horizon, color is imparted to the high clouds. Monitor the weather for incoming or outgoing storms. Check the hourly updates for cloud cover. Bookmark a favorite site and check it often.
Rainbows are another phenomena that rank high on the drama meter. If the rising or setting sun is clearly visible and there’s moisture on the opposite horizon, there’s a good chance a rainbow will appear.
Sunset skies can be very dramatic. The more colorful the better. But color itself isn't what takes the photo to the next level. Look for foreground elements that provide shape, interest and have a recognizable silhouette. The more the outline is distinct, the better. A large, rounded boulder produces a blob of black as opposed to a deciduous tree in winter that has form, lines and character. Outlines of people, skylines and bridges make great silhouettes. Use them as focal points offset against colorful sunset skies.
Use a zoom and vary the focal length. Shoot wide to include a lot of color. Go telephoto to make the sun and silhouette the primary focal points. Make vertical and horizontal compositions to exhaust all possibilities. Add a filter to enhance the color but realize it may contribute to flare. Additional glass surfaces provide a greater opportunity for light to bounce around, which is a main cause of flare. Try to avoid looking directly at the sun to avoid eye damage.
Check your histogram after every exposure and adjust it accordingly. Monitor the red channel to avoid blowing out the warm tones. A large silhouette offset against a bright sky causes overexposure. Compensate using minus exposure adjustment or adjust the exposure manually. A small silhouette against a bright sky may also trick the meter and provide an incorrect exposure. Again, monitor the red channel and adjust the exposure as needed. If you include a bright sun, run a bracketed series and use High Dynamic Range software to blend the images.
Great color doesn’t last long, so work quickly and efficiently. The more often you photograph colorful skies, the more comfortable you’ll get. Scout locations ahead of time. Use a tripod to ensure you get a sharp image. It allows you to use a low ISO, which nets an image with less noise. As the light level drops, your exposure times grow, so it’s essential the camera be placed on a steady platform. Become a sky watcher and add spice to your images with vibrant sunsets as a backdrop. The sky’s the limit (couldn’t resist).
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