I tried to do a few sunset pictures last year with varying degrees of success, using an ND Graduated filter to reduce the glare of the sun. However the sunsets in East Anglia, dramatic as they can sometimes be, do not really allow you to include the sea because you are by definition on the east coast, much to my frustration.
So I was really excited when I got lucky yesterday – work took me to Sidmouth on the Devon coast – some 5 hours drive from home, and I arrived at the hotel just in time to get out of the car, stretch my tired legs and take some photos on the beach. The temperature was already near freezing as I got there, but it was a beautifully clear day and it was too good an opportunity to miss.
As you can see, there were also some surfers in the water – I don’t know how they stood the cold, even in wetsuits. The water looked icy. So, here are my favourites.
Not wishing to set a precedent with two posts in one day, I would like to offer two final evening shots. It rained heavily this afternoon, and as anybody knows, this normally means you can expect an interesting sunset if the cloud clears. Tonight’s was quite nice so, after walking the dog and keeping my eye on the horizon, I popped up the road to the next village, about a mile away. I snapped for about 20 minutes until I got bored/cold, but on the way back, passed the railway station and couldn’t resist taking some shots of the sunset from the platform. I used a small aperture and a long exposure [6 seconds at f18] to try and get the starburst effect on the lights. I rather like it, but apologies to the people at the Kebab van parked next to the station platform, who clearly thought it was quite odd for a grown man to be setting up a tripod and snapping away on an empty platform. Kind of like a trainspotter in reverse.
There’s something endlessly evocative about train tracks, as they stretch away into the distance and bring on images of travel, distant destinations, possibilities, and the unknown. Combined with a nice sunset, they make a good lead-in to this picture.
Above: A closer shot of the station building with a similar single – image HDR effect applied.
It is tempting when reading the Photography magazines to believe that you need to travel a long way to take good or interesting photographs. But for most of us, this is simply not practical. So we have to learn to make the most of what is close to us. In my case, I have ended up getting pretty tired of shots of corn fields this summer! But last evening, I was walking the dog and decided to take some pictures of the impending sunset. It was a sunny day, so I had high hopes of some interesting shots. I also wanted to practice low light pictures, having only dabbled in this once before. So I took my tripod and waited. There is a lot of waiting involved in snapping sunsets! Also, the sun adopts the same stance as the watched kettle – it never seems to actually set!! So here are some things I learnt:
- Get a good vantage point which will allow you to be undisturbed. I used the entrance to a field which allowed me to stand for half an hour unmolested, despite the farmer driving past in his tractor and giving me a very strange look.
- Try and find an interesting feature or skyline, as the sun itself isn’t really what you want to be directly in your picture.
- As everybody says, there isn’t really a ‘standard’ F-stop, shutter speed and ISO setting to use. It depends what you are trying to do. If for example there are also waves or moving water, you might want to do a slow exposure and thus need to adjust the ISO and shutter speed accordingly. My first photo below was taken with a 1 second exposure time.
- Use and ND grad filter! I used an ND4 square filter, and in some pictures this was still not stopping the highlights from being over exposed.
- Have patience! I also read a comment from somebody who said that the real action in a sunset takes place AFTER the sun has set, not before. It may be half an hour after the sun disappears that you will find dramatic effects.
And so, on to the pictures, all taken around my home village. I also enjoyed snapping the local church, as the external lights had just come on and this led to some interesting effects.
Above: A 1 -second exposure taken at F20 and ISO100 to try and preserve the detail.
Above: Taken at F5.6 and 1/80 second exposure time, again at ISO100, about 5 minutes after the sun had set. If you look VERY carefully, to the right of the first right-hand tree, you will see a paraglider who had been buzzing about for the last half an hour.
Above: The church, taken after sunset with the lights illuminating the exterior.
Above: This last one is a single image which I fed through Photomatix to try and get an HDR effect, but it came out looking rather ghostly and eerie, which I like.
Above: The local pub after dark. Used ISO2500, 1/80 second shutter speed at F4, in shutter priority mode, as it was taken handheld.
I have mainly been concentrating on learning daylight photography so far, and only recently have I had the chance to try out some evening and night shots. They are a lot harder than you think initially; simply pressing the button on a point and shoot will get you an image that might be half decent, but when using a ‘proper’ dslr there is clearly a lot for me to learn. I tried out some sunset shots recently on a newly cut field in Suffolk: these were taken with an ND4 graduated filter and I managed to underexpose them by getting some very strange ISO/F-stop combinations, but using Adobe Camera Raw I have managed to salvage them a little as they were underexposed as opposed to overexposed – it’s surprising what you can pull out in terms of detail from an underexposed photo!
Above: The combination of massive detail in the foreground of these shots combined with a medium ISO has made a lot of noise. On the one above I also managed to get a reflection aretfact from the filter, which I will need to remove in photoshop.
These were taken hand held, whereas I should really have used the tripod to reduce the possibility of camera shake. So, further reading of my book on exposure is required, and watch this space!