Learn about what to consider when shooting a sunset.
- While I was out at the Valley of Fire, I had a week of opportunities to capture great sunsets. And I tried a lot of different things out. Let me share with you some of the techniques that worked best. First off, make sure you know where the sun is going to set. To do this, it's a good idea to pull out and use a sun path calculator. Now, these aren't different apps that are available, and we've covered these in some of our Lynda.com training courses before. But what you wanna know is where the sun is going to be setting. Now for me, I can do that quite simply. Just take out my smartphone, fire open an app that allows me to track it and then use the Enhanced VR features to look at the horizon and see where the sun is gonna be.
This will allow you to frame the shot because the sun moves and it might be moving at an arced path. So knowing where it's gonna set is gonna allow you to compose the shot properly. Additionally, maybe you don't want the sun in the shot. One of the things I found is that some of the most beautiful sunsets didn't actually have the sun in the frame. Rather, as the sun set behind the mountains, or going into an area such as the horizon, it threw its light back onto the clouds behind it, making for absolutely beautiful skies.
So don't make that mistake that you have to actually shoot the sun to get the sunset. Couple more things that I learned. Shoot RAW. Now, you've heard me say this again, and again, and again. But you absolutely need to shoot RAW. Because things are gonna change, you need to take advantage of the flexibility of the RAW format. Now, if you're gonna be shooting with RAW, this allows you to think about the exposure. For example, with the sunset, I know that it's going to only get darker, so I might start my shot slightly overexposed.
By shooting two or even three stops overexposed with the RAW file, it's easy to set it so that the camera is brighter. Then after the sun sets, you could transition and use a different exposure. Now, during post production, this is pretty straightforward. We'll look at this later. You can use tools like LRTimelapse to keyframe that transition, or you could simply just develop the files twice. Once before sunset, and once after. And then put a slow cross dissolve in between the two shots.
In any case, the RAW format is the key to the flexibility. If you wanna get a bit fancy, you could step up and use that same smartphone or tablet device and use an app like Triggertrap and shoot in bulb mode. This allows you to actually program and do bulb ramping. Essentially, the camera will keep the shutter open as long as you tell it, or as short as you tell it. And you can load in a ramped exposure time, meaning that before the sun goes down, it's shooting shorter exposures. But then, as it starts to get darker and darker, the exposure stays open longer.
Now, the challenge with this method is it means trial and error, and it's often easy to get it wrong. It's important that you actually look at your sunset tables and get a good idea of when the sun is actually going to set. Now, there are fancier intervalometers out there that have light meters that can actually pick up on the sunset and drive the bulb ramping for you, but I found that these are extremely difficult to use. All right, beyond these sorts of options, just think about a simpler approach as well. One of my favorite tricks that I've picked up is shoot the sunset multiple times.
Meaning, if you leave the camera on a tripod and it's rock solid, it's very easy to adjust the settings. This is particularly true if you are shooting tethered using a remote control or intervalometer, but even if it's on the tripod, you can make quick adjustments to the dials very carefully without moving it. This just takes a rock solid tripod so that camera stays stable. I found that by shooting three different passes, I was able to get a fantastic sunset shot. Shot once as the sun was starting to go down and the sky color changed.
Shot another one for that transitioning moment where the sun actually disappeared and it goes black. And then switched to a really long exposure for nighttime once the stars have come out and you wanna see the mountain range. In any case, I'll walk you through the post of that a little later, but it's not that hard. Remember, when it comes to shooting the sunset, you've got a lot of choices. Just think about what you're trying to accomplish and make sure that if needed, you build in the opportunity to actually tweak the settings and then fix it in post production.
- Choosing the right gear
- Setting up the camera: adding stability and balance
- Choosing the right interval for shooting
- Monitoring the shot in the field
- Developing test shots
- Putting the camera in motion
- Assembling shots in After Effects, LRTimelapse, Photomatix, and Photoshop
- Creating star trails