A warm and soft light, a solar disc which stands out on the horizon: the beginning and the end of the day are among the most aesthetic moments to create landscapes. You have certainly taken advantage of the long summer days to stroll in front of a sunset, you will therefore have noticed that there is nothing flatter than a poorly photographed sunset. So how do you go about it? This is the subject of this tutorial.
Sunset on a beach. 24mm - 400 Iso - f/5 - 1/5000 sec.
It seems obvious, but it is worth remembering that, to photograph the sun, you must not miss your appointment. Before you start, camera under your arm, check the times of sunrise and sunset, and plan enough margin – about an hour – not to miss it. Also check the weather to make sure you're not going to make the trip for nothing. Make sure the cloud cover will not be too heavy. Finally, although the light at the beginning and end of the day is always a good excuse to take photos, if the sun is still your main subject, remember to locate the places to find a good point of view. Reminder: the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. Locate a clear location where you will see your subject appear or disappear depending on the time. If it is easy to see the sun go down, it is very important to anticipate a sunrise. When the star appears on the horizon, it will be too late to decide to change location!
It was just before sunrise that we were able to take this photo on which two silhouettes stand out. 108mm - 50 Iso - f/5,3 - 1/800s.
The sun does not necessarily set on the horizon line. Pay attention to this point so you don't miss it! 187mm - 125 Iso - f/8 - 1/125s.
As impressive as it is, the sun is generally not enough to make beautiful images, because the decor must be suitable for it. Of course, you will find plenty of great images that prove the opposite, but if you have an element in the foreground, your images will be more original and more meaningful. Choose your point of view wisely. By the sea, you may not be able to place a subject in the center of the sun. Arrange to have a foreground with rocks or a person who will cut out. On land, try placing an item on the horizon line. In the absence of a silhouette or an animal, a tree will do. A slightly cloudy sky will also allow you to break the monotony of a huge gradient sky. Contrary to popular belief, according to which a landscape is photographed with a wide-angle, do not neglect telephoto lenses; they will allow you to obtain a sun disk which will occupy a larger part of your image.
In this landscape photo, the silhouette of a tree stands out against the setting sun. 400 mm - 400 Iso - f/5,6 - 1/1000 s.
By photographing the sun from the front, you will find yourself in a situation of perfect backlight, with strong contrasts and an exposure that is difficult for the cell of your camera to manage. Matrix metering will seek to smooth out highlights and shadows, which can result in burnt-out highlights and clogged-up shadows. The very strong contrast of the scene does not allow you, in fact, to have detail simultaneously in the high and low lights. So you have to make a choice.
Here, it is an animal that stands out against the sun. 400mm - 1600 Iso - f/5,6 - 1/4000 sec.
Your subject being the sunset or sunrise, you will need to underexpose the shot to avoid obtaining a white disc surrounded by areas that are themselves clipped. This technique will allow you to saturate the colors a little more and make the warm tone of the sun. The value depends on your composition, so you will need to experiment a bit. Also think about adjusting the white balance: stay on daylight to keep a nice yellow-red dominance. If you shoot in Raw, you can make adjustments in post-production. Light conditions generally allow sunrises and sunsets to be photographed handheld, but if you're looking to retain detail throughout the histogram, you may need to shoot in HDR. A tripod will then be essential!
Using a filter decreases the brightness on only part of the scene. 51 mm - 100 Iso - f/5,6 - 1/250 sec.
The strong contrast between the bright sky and the ground in the dark makes the sunset an ideal subject to take out your neutral gradient filter. These rectangular filters that are used with filter holders will reduce the brightness of only part of the scene, thus reducing the contrast between sky and earth. You can drag them to different heights so that the boundary is on the horizon line, and tilt them if the transition isn't perfectly horizontal or vertical.
There are different densities, with more or less marked transition zones. The leader remains Lee Filters, imported into Spain by Kerpix, which offers six densities ranging from 0,3 to 1,2, each available in four transition categories, ranging from soft to very hard. While you can achieve the same results using the Graduated Filter in Lightroom, you can't recover too much contrast, which makes these accessories a must-have, even digitally.
For even more striking long exposure effects, also consider the Uniform Neutral Density filter. It will allow you to achieve blur effects on clouds or on a first body of water. Be careful to take your tripod and set your camera to a low sensitivity, the image quality will only be better and your exposure time will be longer.
The neutral density filter is ideal for long exposures. A tripod is therefore essential. 57 mm - 400 Iso - f/5,6 - 8 sec.
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