Photography Tutorials

Ramp Up Your Sunset Photography with this Easy Technique

We use a very simple technique and a bit of layer masking to take your sunset landscape photography to the next level. 

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In this landscape photography tutorial I show you an amazingly simple technique to ramp up the quality of your sunset photographs when you are shooting straight at the sun.

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There are two difficulties when shooting directly at the sun that we need to overcome. First is the exposure difference between the sky and the ground. The sky is almost always brighter than the ground so we must take action to balance the exposure across the frame. This is easy to solve and we have a choice of two different methods.

We can use either ND Grad filters, that darken the sky at the point of shooting, or use bracketing. This is where we combine images of the same scene with different exposures to have well exposed highlights,  mid tones and shadows. The video tutorial below gives details of how to do bracketing when doing sunset photography.

https://youtu.be/ndoolGymQJM

The second problem is dealing with lens flare. Those nasty, ever expanding rings that enter your image and ruin the shot. They can be avoided by not shooting at the sun, keeping the sun to your side or using your hand or a lens hood to block it. Sometimes that is not possible or the composition necessitates pointing toward the sun. Thankfully there is very simply technique that anyone can apply, with any camera, as long as a tripod is employed.

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The trick is to very simply place your finger in front of the lens and block out the sun with your finger. We take at least two shots, keeping the camera perfectly still, to expose once for the ground and once for the sky. When exposing for the ground just pop your finger between the sun and the lens and it removes the flare. In the video I show how to then combine the two images using Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop with simple masking.

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It is an easy technique and will work in many situations. On some occasions some additional luminosity masking can help balance the exposure if there is a big difference between the ground and the sky. Luminosity masking is a subject for another day and I only mention it briefly in this video.

One small safety point. When you are shooting straight at the sun do not look at it directly through  the viewfinder as it can damage your eyes. It is much safer using live view and this will not damage the sensor of the camera if only done occasionally.

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The on location section of this video is an extract from landscape photography settings tutorial.

https://youtu.be/0uhG0HvjXGw

Sunset Photography - How to do Bracketing Photography

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Improve your sunset photography by bracketing exposure.

Sunset photography is a challenging genre within landscape photography. I have talked before about how our own eyes and brain work together to let us see a very large dynamic ranges of light. We see details in shadows and very bright highlights at the same time.

Despite cameras having ever increasing dynamic range they still do not compare to the eye/brain combination. The problem is particularly felt in sunset photography where there is high contrast between the sky, where we often shoot straight at the sun, and the ground which gets darker later in the day with long shadows.

We previously got round this using graduated filters. A more modern technique is bracketing photography. Here we take a number of shots at different exposures and combine them in the computer. This creates a RAW file that contains all the details from the darkest shadows to the brightest highlights. This is exactly the same as HDR photography but we are looking to reproduce a natural sunset photography shot that our eyes perceived, rather than that HDR look.

Bracketing Photography

To capture everything that my eyes see I use bracketing photography. To do this in the camera you first need to be in manual mode. You will need a tripod. Set your ISO to 100, aperture to the f8-f16 range and then balance exposure with the shutter speed so you get an image that captures some small detail in the shadows and does not totally over exposure the sky. Use your Histogram to help you expose for the mid tones.

Turn on bracketing. On a Canon camera it is via the Q menu. When doing sunset photography going two stops either side is often the most effective.

Set the camera to fire using the two second timer to avoid any camera shake. The camera needs to be perfectly still for each of the three shots otherwise Lightroom will not be able to combine the images.

Take your shot and the camera will take three exposures. Check each image to make sure you have one that is exposed for the highlights, one for the mid tones and one for shadows.

Combine your sunset photography in Lightroom using the Photo Merge/HDR command. This combines your images into one large RAW file that allows much greater adjustment than a single shot. Process you sunset photography image and aim for something very similar to what your eyes witnessed to avoid your image looking over processed.

Cheating?

Cheating? For me no. I look to create a final image that is as close to what my eyes perceived as possible. the means whether it is with a physical graduated filter, bracketing or a futuristic camera is irrelevant.

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