Archive for the ‘sunrise’ Tag

Friday Foto Talk: Reflections, Part I   18 comments

The Grand Tetons in Wyoming are reflected in the Snake River.

The Grand Tetons in Wyoming are reflected in the Snake River.

Although I should probably get busy and write the follow-up posts to those series I have going right now on this blog (patterns, life in the universe, the Cascades, etc.), I just can’t help going with what is on my mind at the moment.  What I’ve thought about off and on all day long is light, so that is what I’ll post on for this week’s Friday Foto Talk.

Photographers of all stripes know the importance of good light.  You either create it in the form of strobes, flashes and such, or you take advantage of nature’s own brand (which is of course the finest).  Here in the Pacific NW, we have seen a seemingly unending succession of clear days lately.  Although you can always find something to shoot no matter the light, clear skies mean high contrast and a short golden hour.  But we’ve had clouds move in the last couple days, and I’m elated.

This simple shot from Oregon's Cascade Mountains takes advantage of water's ability to reflect beautiful light that is being itself reflected from the fir trees.

This simple shot from Oregon’s Cascade Mountains takes advantage of water’s ability to reflect beautiful light that is being itself reflected from the fir trees.

If you are serious about photography, you should (no MUST) take advantage of good light.  That means getting  out during the golden hours straddling sunrise and sunset.  You might be excused for not doing this when skies are clear.  But when clouds move in, covering part of the sky, you need to do your best to drop everything and get your butt out there to shoot early or late in the day.

This shot from the Okavango Delta would lack a clear subject if the tree was not reflected so nicely.

This shot from the Okavango Delta would lack a clear subject if the tree was not reflected so nicely.

When the light turns beautiful, I typically seek out ways to magnify that great light.  What can I say, I’m greedy!  There are two ways that light rays can interact with a nice cloud-studded atmosphere in order to sweeten themselves.  One way is refraction, the bending and skittering of light rays between and through molecules of cloud and air. The other way is reflection, the simple bouncing of light from some reflective surface.  Great light is always a combination of these two, and this post focuses on the second: reflection.

Yesterday evening we got the first truly good light we’ve seen in quite some time.  I celebrated by going to my special spot where I never see another person, let alone photographer.  What makes this place so special is the quiet waters of the lower Columbia, ready to take on and make even better all the beautiful light that the heavens can give her.  I went to see her sparkling show, and as mostly happens, she did not disappoint (image below).

Color on the Lower Columbia!

Color on the Lower Columbia!

TYPES OF REFLECTIVE SURFACES

      •  Water: The most common of all reflective surfaces is really your go-to, especially if you’re a landscape photographer.  Whenever you’re looking up at the sky a few hours before sunset and thinking “this could really develop into something”, you should first think of places near water.  Even if you’re not much of a landscape person, maybe you like shooting people/action pictures on a pretty day, remember that everybody likes water, including your potential subjects.
The Lamar River Valley in Yellowstone National Park is a peaceful place at dusk.

The Lamar River Valley in Yellowstone National Park is a peaceful place at dusk.

      • Ice/Snow:  Okay I hear ya, these are really water in another form.  But their character is very different.  Ice can indeed act very much like water, in a mirror-like way.  Ice can also refract light, so you’ll get a great combination of effects in some circumstances.  Snow also reflects light, but in a very scattered way.  No mirror here.  I’ve found that depending on the angle of the sunlight and the character of the snow, you can get some pretty fine effects when the light bounces off snow.  You’ve heard Eskimos have a bunch of different words for snow.  Well I think photographers can learn something from Inuits (call them Inuits not Eskimos).
Snow reflects the setting sun from Timberline Lodge on Mount Hood, Oregon.

Snow reflects the setting sun from Timberline Lodge on Mount Hood, Oregon.

      • Rock:  Light-colored rock can reflect light in a very unique way.  Some of the magic of Ansel Adams’ images of the Sierra Nevada were because of the play of light and shadow on the bright granite walls of the mountains.  The color of the rock can impart a definite tone to your subjects (see image below).  Even dark rock, like basalt, can if it is weathered smoothly reflect light in a subtle but attractive manner.
In this evening shot at Zion National Park, the old cabin takes on the color of the canyon walls after the sky's ambient light is reflected from them.

In this evening shot at Zion National Park, the old cabin takes on the color of the canyon walls after the sky’s ambient light is reflected from them.

      • Leaves:  Pay attention to small reflectors.  Leaves can act to bounce light toward or away from you.  Leaves transmit light too, so like ice the angle is worth taking note of and getting right.  You might have either a distracting or a pleasing reflection off the leaves in your composition.
      • Buildings:  The walls and especially the windows on buildings in your cityscapes will invariably reflect some light back at you.  Often the color saturation in light coming from the sky is enhanced when it bounces from the windows of a building.  With walls, it’s basically like rocks.  The lighter-colored and smoother they are, the more reflection you will get.  Again, you’ll need to decide whether the angle of reflection is giving you a distracting or pleasing result.
A Portland, Oregon cityscape is improved by the sky's beautiful light being reflected off the skyscraper.

A Portland, Oregon cityscape is improved by the sky’s beautiful light being reflected off the skyscraper.

      • Bright Ground:  The surfaces you walk on are natural reflectors.  Human-made surfaces tend to be brighter than natural ones, but there are exceptions. Beaches & snow are the best examples, but deposits of calcite (Pamukkale in Turkey or Mammoth in Yellowstone), white granite & marble bedrock, etc. can really bounce the light.  In areas where marble monuments or temples are found, or where the sidewalks and patios are particularly clean and bright, you can use reflection from the ground in several ways.  Providing fill light for portraits is the most obvious example, but you can also use it as you would a body of water during sunrise or sunset.
The nice directional light on this Nicaraguan man's face came largely from the strong sun being reflected off the nearby beach.

The nice directional light on this Nicaraguan man’s face came largely from the strong sun being reflected off the nearby beach.

      • Body Parts:  Eyes are very small but very important reflectors.  Everyone knows about red eye.  To avoid it, don’t use flash on your camera directed right at the person.  But plain old reflection from eyes is something to get just right.  Some of this is done on the computer, but it’s possible to have too much catch-light in a person’s eyes.  Some is good but too much light (or too obvious a reflection of the photographer) is often not attractive.  I won’t mention bald heads, since that is striking a bit too close to home!
This pretty young woman's eyes act as mirrors in this image from Cambodia, creating good catchlights.  But my own reflection is almost too obvious.

This pretty young woman’s eyes mirror the light in this image from Cambodia, creating catchlights. But my own reflection is almost too obvious.

      • Clouds:  Yes, clouds themselves can be a very effective secondary source of light.  When the sun that just set (or has not quite risen) is bouncing light off a large bank of clouds turned a fiery color, you often have enough light (and gorgeous light it is) to turn away from the sunset and photograph the scene behind you.  After sunset it would normally be pretty dark and colorless.  But with this sort of reflection you are given the gift of golden hour plus!  I’ve even noticed that if you have clouds on the opposite side of the sky, light can be reflected twice.  So if you’re shooting a smaller subject that would otherwise be a silhouette, you get some fill light that provides some details. This is a fairly rare & special situation, more common in the desert southwest.  When this late light bounces around, off of different cloud banks & off rock faces, maybe even water as well, you should thank the photography gods and shoot like a maniac!
This picture in Death Valley, California is directed at an angle to the setting sun.  It takes advantage of red-orange light reflected (and refracted) by the clouds back down on the salt flats.  The salt in turn reflects the light, but with a unique tinge created by interaction of the warm light with the salt crystals.

This picture in Death Valley, California is directed at an angle to the setting sun. It takes advantage of red-orange light reflected (and refracted) by the clouds back down on the salt flats. The salt in turn reflects the light, but with a unique tinge created by interaction of the warm light with the salt crystals.

Stay tuned next Friday for Part II of Reflections, where I’ll discuss ways you can use reflections to your advantage when you capture images.  If you are interested in any of these images, just click on them to go to the high-res. version.  Then once you have the full-size image you’re interested in, click “Purchase Options”.  If you have any questions at all, please contact me.  Thanks for reading!

Much-needed light is provided by the moon's reflection from clouds in this evening shot from Mt. Rainier National Park

Much-needed light is provided by the moon’s reflection from clouds in this evening shot from Mt. Rainier National Park

Friday Foto Talk: Shooting Sunrise & Sunset, Part III   2 comments

The cholla and joshua trees are highlighted as the sun sets over the Mojave Desert.

The cholla and joshua trees are highlighted as the sun sets over the Mojave Desert.

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).

Houses over the water in the Columbia River in Oregon have beautiful views westward to the setting sun.

Front-light:  houses over the water in the Columbia River in Oregon have beautiful views westward to the setting sun.

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.).

The evening frontlight is beautiful at base camp on the evening before climbing Island Peak in the Everest region of Nepal.

The evening front-light is beautiful at base camp on the evening before climbing Island Peak in the Everest region of Nepal.

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.

While you may not want your own shadow in the photo every time, the occasional interesting shadow adds to a front-lit sunset scene, as here in Leon, Nicaragua at the church La Recoleccion.

While you may not want your own shadow in the photo every time, the occasional interesting shadow adds to a front-lit sunset scene, as here in Leon, Nicaragua at the church La Recoleccion.

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.

Mount Hood is glowing while the foreground grazing sheep are in shadow, so a graduated neutral density filter was necessary.

Mount Hood is glowing while the foreground grazing sheep are in shadow, so a graduated neutral density filter was necessary.

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.

Layering and gorgeous vibrant colors are possible in front-lit landscapes such as this one, taken at sunset along the Columbia River.

Layering and gorgeous vibrant colors are possible in front-lit landscapes such as this one, taken at sunset along the Columbia River.

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.

Wildlife are excellent subjects when shooting away from the sun.  Here in Kruger N.P., South Africa, a lion's mane picks up the gold from a sun that has just broken the horizon.

Wildlife are excellent subjects when shooting away from the sun. Here in Kruger N.P., South Africa, a lion’s mane picks up the gold from a sun that has just broken the horizon.

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.

A wet meadow in the western Montana high country greets the new day.

A wet meadow in the western Montana high country greets the new day.

Please contact me if you have any questions.  Thanks for looking!

The time just after sunset is often the most atmospheric time to shoot a picture, as proven here in Cambodia.

The time just after sunset is often the most atmospheric time to shoot a picture, as proven here in Cambodia near Angkor Wat.

Friday Foto Talk: Shooting at Sunrise & Sunset – Part II   5 comments

Sunrise from a campsite deep in the Okavango Delta, Botswana.

Sunrise from a campsite deep in the Okavango Delta, Botswana.

This is the second part of three dealing with photography at sunrise and sunset.  It will focus on how and what to shoot.  See Part I for some general info., equipment and tips.

Now what to shoot?  As I mentioned above, water should probably be near the top of your list.  But you can find beautiful bodies of water in the mountains, broad valleys, cities, even deserts.  And of course seascapes by definition include a very big body of water.  While including the sun in your shots is the classic composition, photography at these times of day is so much more than that.  Start to think and plan along the following lines:

The Bridge of the Gods spans the Columbia River at Cascade Locks, Oregon.

The Bridge of the Gods spans the Columbia River at Cascade Locks, Oregon.

I. Shoot toward the Sun

You will face the strongest contrasts when doing this, so looking at your image on the LCD right after you take it is important.  Turn on your highlight warning (blinkies) and also take a look at the histogram.  Make sure you don’t have too much dark area (which will just look noisy when you lighten it) and definitely avoid letting areas get blown out (climb up the right edge of your histogram).  You can let things like the sun, headlights or streetlights, and a few other things blow out to white of course.

Springtime means that the sunflower-like balsamroot blooms at Rowena Plateau above the Columbia River in Oregon.

Springtime means that the sunflower-like balsamroot is in bloom at Rowena Plateau above the Columbia River in Oregon.

Using a graduated neutral density filter is nearly always key when shooting into the sun.  Although Photoshop, Lightroom and other software have graduated filters, you cannot expect to use these programs to darken a blown-out sky.  So you might need to use a grad. filter in the field just to tame the bright sky enough to be able to use another grad. in post-processing.  If you have trouble seeing in your viewfinder the line where dark goes to light on the filter, use the depth of field preview button (if your camera has one).  Also try using live view.  I hand-hold the filter in place, but you can also get the dedicated filter-holding kit.  I also will often move the filter up and down to effectively soften the transition.  You can buy a hard-transition filter and then use this technique to turn it into a soft transition.

We often don't think about macro photography at sunrise, but this is in my opinion the best time.  Here a windless morning pairs with beautiful dew to make this balsamroot shine.

We often don’t think about macro photography at sunrise, but this is in my opinion the best time. Here a windless morning pairs with beautiful dew to make this balsamroot shine.

Also watch for flare.  Use your lens hood, and consider wearing a cap just so you can use it to help block the sun.  Avoid using any screw-in filter unless you have to.  For example, use a polarizer to tame that reflection on the lake surface (so you can see the pretty rocks beneath the surface) but take off your protective UV filter.  A little flaring is easy to remove later on the computer, and flaring sometimes adds something to the shot.  Simply be aware of it when you’re shooting toward the sun or any bright light.

Natural channels along the rocky Oregon Coast often serve to funnel waves inshore, soaking unwary photographers in the process.

Natural channels along the rocky Oregon Coast often serve to funnel waves inshore, soaking unwary photographers in the process.

It’s usually best to take your meter reading off of the bright part of the sky near the sun (not the sun itself).  You can also take it off of the bright part of a reflection in water.  In aperture-priority mode, point the center of your frame at this bright area.  Press and hold the exposure lock button before recomposing and also before sliding the grad. neutral density filter over your lens.  In manual mode, you set your aperture, point the middle of the frame at the area you’re metering from, and then adjust shutter speed so the light meter is more or less centered.  I like to bias  my exposure a little to the right, which refers to the histogram bulging to the right (slightly overexposed).  Remember to use the highlight warning to make sure important detail isn’t lost by making it too bright.

A lone man walks the beach on the remote Andamon Sea island of Tarutao off southern Thailand's coast.

A lone man walks the beach on the remote Andamon Sea island of Tarutao off southern Thailand’s coast.

II. Shoot at an Angle to the Sun

This is often what you want to do when the sky is decorated with colorful clouds at sunrise or sunset.  Shadows of things like rock formations, trees, even people or animals, can really help to set off the photo and give it depth.  Same principles apply as with other images: meter off of the brighter areas of the landscape or better yet, a medium-bright part of the blue sky.  Or you can simply frame and shoot, then check the LCD, including the histogram.

There is plenty of shadow and depth in this image shot at an angle to the sun.  Sand dunes and the Totem Poles in Monument Valley as the sun sets and the moon rises.

There is plenty of shadow and depth in this image shot at an angle to the sun. Sand dunes and the Totem Poles in Monument Valley.

This is also when a circular polarizer comes in most handy.  Realize that when the sun is low and you are shooting in a direction that is near 90-degrees from the sun, the polarizer will have its maximum effect.  What this means in practice is that you need to be careful; don’t necessarily rotate the filter to its maximum.  Less can sometimes be more here, so try a partial polarizing effect.  If you need to tame large contrast between land and sky use a graduated neutral density filter over top of the polarizer.

Photographed at an angle to the setting sun, a lone farmstead in the Khumbu region of Nepal's HImalayan Mountains lies in spectacularly rugged country.

Photographed at an angle to the setting sun, a lone farmstead in the Khumbu region of Nepal’s HImalayan Mountains lies in spectacularly rugged country.

If you are using a very wide angle lens, be careful of two things regarding the polarizer:  (1) the filter might show up in the corners, forming a vignette.  Zoom in a bit or go buy a polarizer built for wide-angles (they’re thin); and (2) the polarizing effect will vary across the sky, since the angle of view is so large.  This can result in some weird effects, especially if you have a lot of blue sky.  Don’t use the filter at maximum effect, or use a graduated ND filter to darken the lighter area in the sky.

The desert sun sets over the ubiquitous sandstone outcrops that surround Page, Arizona.

The desert sun sets over the ubiquitous sandstone outcrops that surround Page, Arizona.

Hope you’re enjoying these posts.  Stay tuned next Friday for the final part.  Note that these images 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!

Shooting at an angle to the sun lends texture and shadows to this view of the Namib Desert near Sossusvlei, Namibia.

Shooting at an angle to the sun lends texture and shadows to this view of the Namib Desert near Sossusvlei, Namibia.

Rowena Plateau is Blooming   8 comments

Dawn breaks on Rowena Crest in Oregon's Columbia River Gorge.

Dawn breaks on Rowena Crest in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge.

 

Rowena is one of my favorite places to hike and photograph in springtime, not only in Oregon but anywhere.  Around Easter the showy yellow blooms of the arrowleaf balsamroot appear, and they are soon joined by lupine, paintbrush and other more subtle flowers.  It’s a show that shouldn’t be missed if you happen to be in the Pacific Northwest in spring.  It is very popular with photographers and hikers both.

Early morning dew coats arrowleaf balsamroot at Rowena Crest in the Columbia River Gorge.

Early morning dew coats arrowleaf balsamroot at Rowena Crest in the Columbia River Gorge.

To get there, take Interstate 84 east of Portland all the way out past Hood River to the town of Mosier.  Get off the freeway and turn east on the Dalles-Mosier highway.  This is an extremely scenic two-lane that winds up through the hills toward Rowena Plateau (also known as Rowena Crest).  When the road tops out and the trees thin out, look for a turnoff and parking to the right.  What a view!

Note also that there are wide spots to pull off along the road before you get to the official viewpoint.  But please don’t drive off the gravel; this is fairly delicate terrain.  After your visit, you can keep going on this road as it winds spectacularly back down to the Columbia River, where you’ll be able to access the freeway again for the return.  I’ve seen car companies shooting commercials here.  It will take about an hour and a half to drive here from Portland.

Mount Adams is visible on the hike up to Tom McCall Point at Rowena Plateau in Oregon.

Mount Adams is visible on the hike up to Tom McCall Point at Rowena Plateau in Oregon.

Trails head in both directions from the viewpoint at the crest, and you can’t go wrong with either one.  If you take the trail that heads north toward the river, you’ll pass fields of wildflowers and a small lake.  It’s less than a mile to the cliff-edge, where you can look straight down on the freeway and the river.  Use caution!

If you go the other direction, toward the south, wildlfowers will again greet you as you climb toward McCall Point.  Making the short <2-mile climb to this point will reward you with views of both Mounts Hood and Adams.  Please stay on the trail, and avoid stepping on the plants.  Some are quite rare, even endangered.

Doe and yearling mule deer are curious to see who is visiting at Rowena Plateau near the Columbia River, Oregon.

Doe and yearling mule deer are curious to see who is visiting at Rowena Plateau near the Columbia River, Oregon.

This whole area is a preserve named for Tom McCall, a former governor of Oregon known for his environmental stewardship.  He was also famous for his unofficial motto “Oregon, enjoy your visit but please don’t stay!”  He did not want his beloved state to become California, and a sign was even posted with this motto on the main highway near Oregon’s border with our southern neighbor.

The area is preserved because of its unique botanical treasures.  The showy sunflower-like balsamroot and lupine are very common of course, but there are smaller, less noticeable plants here that are rare and make botanists go giddy with pleasure.  It’s a gorgeous place, especially at sunrise.  I camp here in my van so as to be here at daybreak.  It’s one of the few places I go that I share with a good number of other photographers.  It’s just too good to miss.

Mount Hood stands beyond the spring blooms on Tom McCall Point in Oregon.

Mount Hood stands beyond the spring blooms on Tom McCall Point in Oregon.

If you come here note that it can often be very windy (see image at bottom).  When the sun shines and temperatures rise (which often happens on this drier side of the Cascades), watch for snakes.  Rattlesnakes, which are potentially dangerous, are not as common as gopher snakes but the two can be hard to distinguish.  This is not least because the non-venomous gopher snake has some tricks up its sleeve that it uses to mimick the venomous rattler.  The triangular-shaped head of the rattler, along with its well-known method of warning hikers, should be enough to tell the difference.  Various birds (including raptors), lizards, wild turkeys and deer also frequent the area.

Rowena would definitely be high on my list if I was visiting the Hood River/Columbia Gorge area.  I hope you enjoy the images.  Please be aware that they are copyrighted and not available for free download, sorry.  Click on any of the pictures to go to the main part of my website, where there are purchase options for high-resolution images.  Please contact me if you have any questions.  Thanks a lot.

A very stiff wind blows the balsamroot and lupine at sunrise on Rowena Plateau in Oregon's Columbia River Gorge.

A very stiff wind blows the balsamroot and lupine at sunrise on Rowena Plateau in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge.

 

 

Friday Foto Talk: Shooting at Sunrise & Sunset – Part I   7 comments

Sunrise on the north side of Mt Hood from the pastoral Hood River Valley, Oregon.

Sunrise on the north side of Mt Hood from the pastoral Hood River Valley, Oregon.

I moderated a discussion last night with my photo club, all about photography at sunrise and sunset.  Not surprisingly, I found it difficult to narrow things down so we could avoid talking all night.  Photographing at sunrise and sunset covers a lot of ground: things like technique, equipment and style, along with issues like safety and locations (including avoiding over-photographed subjects).

In this first part of a two-part post, I’ll go through some important things to think about when planning and setting out to shoot at sunrise and sunset, things I’ve learned over the years, and equipment to bring along.  Tune in next Friday for Part II, which will cover what types of things to shoot when the sun is low, plus tips on how best to capture them.

Sunset is not just for landscapes: Portland, Oregon's street fair known as First Thursday.

Sunset is not just for landscapes: Portland, Oregon’s street fair known as First Thursday.

Tips

      • Planning – The Photographer’s Ephemeris:  Google and download this free application (there is a charge for mobile versions) so you can see rising and setting times for both sun and moon, along with a map-based view of rising and setting directions for any location you specify.  
      • Planning – Research:  While you’re traveling about your local area, be aware of where the sun has risen and will set, and whether it offers some opportunity for nice shots in good light.  Read about nice viewpoints on hiking websites or guidebooks.  Talk to friends.  But don’t stress on planning things to a tee; get out and see what happens (see Location below).
      • Planning – Timing & Scouting:  For sunset, when the light builds in quality and then after sunset slowly transitions to the subtle beauty of blue hour, it’s okay to not have a specific location picked out.  Pick out a general area and see how things shape up light-wise when you get there.  But leave plenty of time, arriving up to a couple hours before sunset time.  For sunrise, it’s important to scout beforehand (the day or weekend before).  You want a more specific idea of where you’ll shoot from compared to sunset.  Still, arrive anywhere from a half hour to an hour before sunrise.  The progress of the light is the reverse of that at sunset, so things happen more quickly to start out, with blue hour being first to appear and the light quality fading more slowly.
      • Location – Where?  I’ve found this to be something many photographers have trouble with – where to go?  Although you can certainly get recommendations from photog. friends as a way to start out, I recommend finding your own spots.  Drive out to areas you know are scenic late in the day towards sunset.  Stop and take pictures at places you find compelling or beautiful.  While you’re doing that, try to imagine if it would be good for sunrise too.  Go anywhere you know has a relatively clear horizon towards the east and/or west, someplace scenic.  This is winging it I realize, but it works to get you away from over-shot locales.  Use others for inspiration or information of course.  And there’s nothing wrong with photographing a popular spot in great light.  But you will benefit in the long run to find your own compositions.
      • Location – General:  For me at least, bodies of water nearly always help a picture, especially at sunrise or sunset.  Because of its reflectivity, water helps with contrast, and it can also act as a beautiful mirror.  Also look for relatively un-vegetated areas (such as desert or grassland).  As with water, the bright, reflective nature of these landscapes help with contrast, especially when shooting into the sun.  As you get better at exposure and use of filters, go for darker landscapes.
      • Location – Elevation:  An elevated position (your classic viewpoint) is always worth looking for, though shooting from lower down, next to water or down the length of a valley framed by trees for example, is also a good plan.
The sunflower-like arrowleaf balsamroot blooms in profusion below a darkening dusk sky in the rocky terrain of the eastern Columbia River Gorge in Washington.

The sunflower-like arrowleaf balsamroot blooms in profusion below a darkening dusk sky in the rocky terrain of the eastern Columbia River Gorge in Washington.

      • Light:  This is of course one of the two most important things that will determine how good your photos turn out (the other being your subject/composition).  Clouds and unsettled weather are good for a number of reasons.  But when the sun sets into a thick bank of clouds well before the light gets good, I don’t think you’ll tend to agree with this wisdom.  I always consider clouds better than a clear sky, but whether this turns out to be the case for any given sunset or sunrise is another thing.  One thing is certain: when the sun peeks out from beneath gorgeous, colorful and dramatic clouds just before setting, putting forth beautiful crepuscular rays (a.k.a. Jesus rays), you will thank yourself for ignoring the threatening weather or rain earlier and heading out.  Clouds can also turn outrageous colors after the sun sets.  But good luck predicting any of this hours before sunset.  Believe me I’ve tried.
      • Composition – Elements:  Picking out silhouettes is a great idea when shooting toward the sun.  They must be recognizable and nearly black to work (expose for the bright sky behind the silhouetted object).  Also worthwhile during iffy weather is keeping an eye out on the scene away from the sun.  Golden light and rainbows are not an uncommon reward.  Reflections are also worth looking for, either in water or (in the case of cityscapes) on buildings.
      • Composition – Depth:  As any photography 101 book will tell you, try to find beautiful or interesting foreground elements to put in the bottom or at the sides of your frame, and get close to them (a few feet is not too close!).  Try for a photo with great depth, your aperture at f/22 or similar.  But never think this is always the best choice.  Other types of compositions, say with the closest elements a hundred or more yards away or even an image that is all background and sky, are not “amateur” or the lessor image in any sense.  They will provide variety to your pictures, and often have more impact (and sharpness) than photos with a lot of depth.
      • Composition – Your Frame:  You’ve heard of the rule of thirds, and not centering elements in the middle of your frame.  When you’re shooting at sunset or sunrise, the sky and landscape often contrast greatly with each other.  Unless you have strong subsidiary layering (such as a strong line of hills or trees, a reflection), it’s usually not a good idea to center the horizon line.  Decide which is more interesting, above or below the horizon, and shoot with that taking up roughly 2/3 or more of the frame.  If your decision here wasn’t a slam-dunk, quickly raise or lower the camera so you’re emphasizing the opposite section.  There’s nothing wrong with hedging your bets!
The Painted Hills in central Oregon takes on deep hues at dusk.

The Painted Hills in central Oregon takes on deep hues at dusk.

      • Equipment:  

Bring a good solid tripod with ball-head.  And use it!  If you don’t like using your shutter-delay mode, also get a cable release.  

A wide-angle lens, offering a focal length no longer than about 27 mm. (35 mm equivalent) is really necessary for most landscape photography, including sunset and sunrise.  A focal length on the order of 15 mm. or so will give you an ultrawide view and help to make everything in your frame sharp from front to back (if you use a small aperture – f/22 for example).  Don’t leave your normal or long focal-length lenses home however.  Many of my best sunset and sunrise photos were taken at focal lengths of 50 mm., 100 mm., even 200 mm. or more!  

For filters, bring a graduated neutral density filter or two, the rectangular (not screw-in) type.  Singh-Ray makes an excellent one, and a 3-stop grad. is a great first purchase.  Also I highly recommend a circular polarizer.

Bring a flashlight or headlamp whether doing sunset or sunrise.  There’s nothing worse than dropping an item and not being able to search for it in the grass because of low-light.

Totally optional but nice to have are knee pads for getting down low near your foreground without denting your knee on a sharp rock.  Also if you’re anything like me and love to get very near to a watery foreground, bring or wear rubber boots (“wellies”).  Some photogs. even bring hip waders.  Or you can do what I often do and simply wear warm wool socks, old sneakers and quick-drying pants.  It will toughen you up getting your feet and legs wet, and you can then claim that you “suffer for your art”.

The sun goes down with a show of glory along the Redwood Coast, northern California.

The sun goes down with a show of glory along the Redwood Coast, northern California.

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