This is the last of three parts on the subject of photographing at sunrise and sunset. Please read Part II, as this post follows directly from there. We left off covering tips and hints on how to best capture images shooting (I) into the sun and (II) at an angle to the sun. Now let’s talk about how to…
III. Shoot away from the Sun
With the sun over your shoulder, you should be able to simply point the camera and shoot. You can even shoot in program mode without problems. There is very little challenge with metering, and this is because of that wonderful golden and easy light known as front-light. This is when sunlight tends to illuminate and reflect off of everything pretty much evenly. As such, it’s a great time to shoot wildlife or people in the landscape. Getting catch lights in their eyes is easier for one thing. Just don’t make them squint (the people that is, well maybe the animals too).
Alas, there is one issue with this mode of shooting. It couldn’t be a total walk in the park, else it wouldn’t be worth doing, right? When the sun is very low (which is when you want to shoot because the light is best), you will often find that your own shadow, and the shadow of your tripod, disrupts your foreground. Sometimes when this happens I will set the camera’s self-timer on 10 seconds and then run out of the picture. It’s much easier to use Photoshop to clone out the shadow of a tripod alone than the shadow of fat old me. An alternative solution is to find a shooting angle where you are low enough, or at a slight angle to the sun, so that your shadow isn’t in the picture at all. This will be made easier if you aren’t shooting at such a very wide angle (greater than about 35 mm.).
Unlike other shooting angles, shooting away from the sun will often free you from the need to use a graduated neutral density filter (grad. ND). See Part II of this series for an explanation on how to use a grad. ND filter. You might still need to use one however if the sun gets low enough so that your foreground is in shadow while your background or sky is still brightly illuminated. Even when you have a nice even front-light, the sky could be covered with a bright white clouds, making the use of a grad. ND filter necessary.
To see if you need to use one, just compose your scene and shoot. Then check the LCD to see if your highlight warning (blinkies) is causing large patches of sky to blink. You do have the highlight warning turned on don’t you? Check your camera manual to see how to turn it on.
If you do have the blinkies, you know you need to decrease your exposure. If you are in aperture priority mode, decrease your exposure compensation in 1/3 stop increments until you get the blinkies to stop (or be limited to mere slivers). In manual mode adjust the shutter speed to shorter times in 1/3 increments.
After you get rid of the blinkies, look at the camera’s LCD to see if the foreground is too dark (you can also take a look at the histogram to help with this). If the foreground is too dark, zero your exposure compensation and shoot with a grad. ND filter. Then check the LCD again. This might be a time when you can use that 2-stop (or even 1-stop) filter. But I’ve found that if a 1-stop filter is called for, that usually means that I can apply the same thing in Lightroom (or Photoshop) after the fact with no loss of detail in the highlights. Save your money and get 2-stop and/or 3-stop grad. ND filters for more extreme contrasts.
I hope you liked these posts. I really would like to see your efforts, so make sure and post some sunrise or sunset photos and comment with a link. I meet quite a few photographers who think sunrise and sunset are over-done. But I actually think they just don’t know how many different types of photos can be had at these times when the light is at its best. It really is about more than the sun, much more.
I also hope you enjoyed these images. Please be aware that they are copyrighted and not available for free download, sorry. If you’re interested in purchase of any of them, as fine-art prints or as high-resolution downloads, simply click on the image. Once you are at the screen-filling image, click “add this image to cart”. It won’t be added to your cart right away; just click the appropriate tab to be shown pricing for the image.
Please contact me if you have any questions. Thanks for looking!