Recently in Seoul we’ve had a photographer’s dream – beautiful light all throughout the day. Mornings have been partially cloudy, giving us a gorgeous soft light to work with. The usually harsh midday sun has been patchy with beautiful clouds drifting in and out. But most of all, our evenings have lit up with the stunning colours of post-storm sunsets.
For about 10-20 minutes before and after the sunset, the sun is at the perfect angle to fill our sky with a diffuse light that refracts into reds, pinks, and oranges, while fading quickly into the deep blue of twilight overhead. For landscape photographers, this is a particularly favourite time of day because it illuminates the world and soft, warm, raking light. But as mere mortals, how do we capture this beauty?
Let’s look today at shooting towards the sunset, and start with a simple technical piece of information about cameras. Many modern cameras (including smart phones, point-and-shoot, and DSLRs) have automatic exposure modes, and these can be perfect for capturing beautiful sunset images. When you point your camera at a given subject, it will try to ‘average’ the scene to a ‘good’ exposure. The trouble with situations like sunsets is that they are extremely contrasty. The point where the sun is will be extremely bright, but the sky above it will be much darker. How can we compensate for this?
Most cameras have an ‘exposure compensation’ setting. DSLRs will have a button on the camera, as will many high end mirrorless or point-and-shoot cameras. Android phones even have this built in, although iPhones will need an external camera application. Using this we are able to tell the camera that a scene is too bright or too dark for our tastes, and have it adjust its automatic evaluation of a scene.
Darkening the scene has a dramatic effect on colours. The darker a colour is, the more saturated it becomes. If you want deep, dramatic colours at sunset, you want to “dial down” your exposure using exposure compensation. The image above is shot with a Fujifilm x-t1 and dialed to -2 2/3 stops, which is almost 1/8 of the light the camera wanted to take in. By doing this, I made the scene significantly more dramatic.
The second thing at play here is my colour preset. Many cameras have a “picture style” or similar function that allows you to change the way colours and contrast are interpreted and saved by the camera. Settings may include “portrait,” “vivid,” or “soft”. In this case, I set my Fuji to “vivid,” which on this camera mimics Velvia film. This gives a high contrast, high saturation feel to the colours.
After this, it’s just a case of framing your subject. In this case, the dark clouds looming over Seoul Tower blocked the sunset light from going any further and created a dramatic border around the subject.
This is the first in a new series of ‘how to’ blog posts that I will be doing for common photography situations. I hope you’ve found it useful. Please feel free to leave any comments or questions in the comments section below. Look out next week for another image walk through.