Tips for Sensational Sunsets

Sunsets are a very popular subject for many photographers. The colors in the sky, given the right weather conditions, can be one of nature’s most captivating shows.  Capturing those colors with a camera often requires that you understand a little about how your camera’s meter works.  Because if you over expose the shot, and make it too light, the colors in the sky won’t show up in the image that you capture with your camera.

One of my first 35mm film cameras had an exposure lock, and a very simple meter that took a light reading in the center of the image.  So I would point the center point of the viewfinder at the light part of the sky to set the exposure for the bright area, hold the lock button, compose the photo the way I wanted it with trees and other objects of interest in it, and shoot.  What this did was give me the proper exposure for the brightest part of the photo, the sky, and leave the things on the ground as dark silhouettes.  And often I would shoot a second shot that I would underexpose by ½ stop or maybe even a whole stop, just in case.  This was before all the scene modes, and advanced metering systems we now have available.  But it’s exactly what your camera, or you, still need to do today to get the right exposure.

The meters on modern cameras take light readings throughout the image.  Some cameras may have a sunset mode, or may do a good job on their own of properly exposing the sky.  But in some cases, your camera may try to help you by trying to brighten up the image, to get details from the items in the lower part of the image that you actually want to be silhouettes. With digital cameras, it is easy to see the results immediately, and make any necessary adjustments. If this happens, use your exposure compensation to under expose the image.  Then look at the results, and if you need to, under expose more and try again.  As with all of my examples, with trial and error you will get to know how your camera works, and what you need to do to get the colors to pop out in the final image.

One of the most important things to know about shooting sunsets is not to stop shooting when the sunlight starts to fade, and the colors you can see start dimming.  All the long exposure shots in this book look nothing at all like what could be see

n by the naked eye.  The long exposure gathers up all the light that is there for a given period of time, and just after sunset this can result in some very beautiful images.

The Witness Tree, Gettysburg PA

The Witness Tree, Gettysburg PA

“The Witness Tree” is a photo of a tree on the Gettysburg battlefield. This shot was taken with Panasonic Lumix micro 4/3 camera mounted on a tripod. I used my remote shutter release cable to avoid excess camera movement. It was taken as the very last light of day was fading away, after a very colorful sunset. Just a little light remained in the sky. Using a 50 second exposure, the camera collected the light that was left, and found more color. Dark blues in the night sky, spotted with some of the first stars of the evening. And reds along the horizon, still showing up as the sun dipped below the line of site. Enough light was there to ilhouette the grizzled old tree, and a couple of the battlefield monuments.

One note about locations such as the Gettysburg Battlefield and other parks or public facilities.  Many tourist destinations close for the night.  Make sure you make note of what time the place closes.  The Gettysburg Battlefield closes at 10:00pm, which gives you time between dusk and the actual closing of the park to take pictures without breaking any of the park rules.

Summary:  underexpose for colors, use trial and error and get to know your camera, and after the sun goes down, utilize long exposures to pull out even more color than you can see with your eyes.

Nature Photography: Five Tips For Great Photos That Sell. by Andrew Goodall

Nature photography is increasingly popular, and digital cameras allow anyone to give it a try. There are so many nature photographers out there these days, it is a real challenge to get your work noticed.

If you want to make some money from nature photography, or even make it your living, your photography must offer something special. It is not enough for your photos to be ‘good.’ There is more than enough ‘good’ photography out there already. Your photos need to be unique and distinctive, or they simply won’t be noticed.

Here are five tips to help you rise to the challenge.

Nature Photography Tip #1. Concentrate On Nature, Not Just Technology. In the digital age there is an increasing emphasis on the latest technology; so much so that some people tend to rely on the camera (and the computer) to do the work for them. While it is understandable that people are drawn to photography by their love of technology, good nature photography really requires a more old-fashioned approach.

Understanding the light is paramount. You really need to learn how to capture your photo in the best possible light, which means picking the ideal weather conditions, and the right time of day for each subject. Spending time observing the light and how it works in a photo will make you a much better photographer than someone who thinks technology is the key to good photography.

Nature Photography Tip #2. Look For Unique Moments. Never forget that every idea you have has already been had by someone else, and every subject you photograph has been photographed by a thousand people before you. The truth is, it is easy to take a decent photo; that’s why there are so many of them on the market. The trick is to take something exceptional.

This is all about timing. With landscapes, you need to look for an unusual angle or a spectacular sky. Your photo must be well lit (see tip #1) but it must also capture a feature or a moment that will make viewers think “Wow, I have never seen it photographed like that before!”

Nature Photography Tip #3. Get To Know Your Local Environment. When you are travelling, capturing a unique moment takes a bit of luck. In terms of unusual weather, you really have to take your chances along with the rest of the tourists. Closer to home, however, you have an unfair advantage over everyone else. You may be in a unique position to be on-site at special moments other photographers can only dream of.

Get to know your local landmarks. Find the best lookouts and the quickest shortcuts to get there. Identify which time of day is best for each location. Then listen to weather reports and keep an eye on the sky. When you see something special start to build (a dark storm cloud, maybe the chance of a rainbow etc), grab your camera, get into position, and wait for your moment to arrive. In time, you could build a collection of photos of your local landscapes that is second to none.

Nature Photography Tip #4. Be Patient And Persevere. As I said earlier, it is easy to take a good photo; it is not so easy to take something truly special. A lot of things have to fall into place to get a perfect shot, so don’t be disappointed when your first attempts yield little result. You may need to visit the same place over and over again, until you find the stroke of luck that creates your great photo opportunity. Professional nature photographers are prepared to put in this extra effort for a shot. Once you get that once-in-a-lifetime image it will all seem worth it.

When the moment comes, take a lot of photos. You really need to make the most of a great opportunity, and every scene can produce a myriad of possible images. Remember that in the digital world, it costs nothing to keep snapping, so you can afford to really do justice to the moment.

Nature Photography Tip #5. Perfect Your Technique. You can wait days or weeks for a great photo opportunity, but when the moment arrives it can come and go in a matter of minutes. You don’t want to waste time trying to work out your apertures and shutter speeds. Practice your skills at every opportunity, and really get to know your camera.

You don’t need to know every tiny feature of the menu. The essentials of good photography are the same as always; aperture, shutter speed, ISO, focus etc. The more practice you put in, the easier and more instinctive it will become. Then when your special moment arrives, you can put your energy into creativity instead of fumbling with camera settings.


Andrew Goodall has made his living from nature photography for over 20 years. Andrew’s ebooks “Photography in Plain English” and “Every Picture Tells A Story” have helped thousands of beginners learn the art and skills of nature photography. Find them at

Want to remember something? Don’t take a photo.

Research shows, when taking photos you remember less of the experience you are photographing, with one exception.

5 Resources for Getting Sharper and Clearer Photos

Nothing is worse than taking what you think is the most fantastic photo you can imagine, and getting home, loading it on your PC, and it’s either a little soft, or out and out blurry.  Some of these articles have duplicated tips, but each has some unique suggestions that will help you achieve  sharper and clearer images.


Digital Photography School shows some basic reasons that photos are not sharp, and the solutions that will fix those mistakes.


Some more basic tips from Photography Life.  This includes 17 tips for improving sharpness in your photos.  Some of these are the same as the Digital Photography School, but there are other interesting tips here as well.


Another article from Digital Photography School explains the hyperfocal distance concept.  This


If you’ve read through the articles above, you’ve seen a tripod mentioned a couple times now.  What if you forget your tripod?  This Photojojo article has a really cool tip for improvising a tripod using string and a pencil.


And finally, an article from that includes some interesting tips, including turning Vibration Reduction to OFF in some cases, using your mirror lockup, and turning image stabilization back ON for other instances.


Hopefully you have found some of these tips helpful.  Happy shooting!

Does Luck Make the Shot?

What part does luck play in getting that one special picture?  Being in the right place at the right time, when all the elements of that special shot come together, and you click the shutter release, and you know you got it.  Were you there by pure dumb luck?  Maybe.  Were you there with the camera raised, with the right light, the right composition, and you just happened to click the shutter when that last element fell into place.  Maybe.  I’ve had some shots I like to call “happy accidents” that I didn’t even know I got until I loaded them onto the computer.

More often though, you are there with the right light, and the right composition, and you are waiting for that last piece to fall into place, waiting for that moment to occur, and then….. well, then sometimes that last element comes into place, and sometimes it doesn’t.  But when it does… that last little piece may be luck.  But why were you there?  Anticipation.Boilermaker Road Race Finish Line Celebration

To quote Dan Bailey in his book Zen Photographer:  “Anticipation, which is actually the secret ingredient behind luck, is essentially knowing, or having a pretty good idea of what’s about to happen next.”

Many great shots can be had because you know your subject.  You know what light works.  You know a location.  And you think maybe, just maybe, if that one last little piece can fall into place…  that light will hit that tree in a certain way, or that person would just walk over in front of that door.  That is the shot.  Anticipation.

I was listening to the podcast This Week In Photography.  Photographer Doug Kaye said that he tells his students that “Luck is the residue of design.”   You can make your luck… or at least help it along.  To rely on luck for all the right elements to align is asking a lot.  It happens, sometimes, but not often.  Design.  That’s stacking the deck in your favor with some of the things that you can predict.  Getting yourself in the right place.  In a way, it’s like shooting action with an old manual focus camera, predicting where something is going to happen, and pre-focusing your camera on the spot where the bat is going to hit the ball.  It’s waiting by a brightly painted building waiting for someone with a certain color hat to walk by.  You have taken control of SOME of the elements.  You’ve given luck a head start.  You stacked the deck in your favor.  You just need that last element…..

The photo with this post is one I took at the finish line of the annual Boilermaker 15K road race in Utica, NY.   This is a shot from a few years ago, and it’s one of my favorites from this race.  There’s a lot of emotion on the finish line.  I saw one of the runners coming across the finish line.  I noticed the other one waiting, and then they were approaching each other.  Anticipation.  I saw it coming together.  And I ended up with a shot the shows the emotion of the day for these two people.

What role does luck play for you in your photography?

Cemetery at Night 3

IMG_9019bwSmAnother shot from the Cooperstown cemetery.  You can see some of the shadows cast by the light on the nearby building.  The tree in the foreground is the perfect tree to add that spooky look now that the leaves are gone.  With the lighting here, a good time to come back to this location and shoot will be on a foggy or rainy evening, or possibly even when there is snow in the air.  The moisture in the air will diffuse and soften the light coming from the left.  And it will also add to the eerie feel of the location.

This photo was taken with a Canon 50D using a Canon f2.8 40mm pancake lens, and a Vanguard Alta series tripod.  ISO was set to 1600, aperture was f8, and a 20 second shutter speed was used.  Post processing was done in Photoshop Elements where I did a levels adjustment.  It was converted to black and white using Topaz B&W Effects.

Cemetery at Night 2

IMG_9012bwSmHere is another shot from the cemetery in Cooperstown.  This shot was taken facing away from the building and the strong light source.  I actually ended up cropping it so that I removed a streetlight from the left side of the image.

This photo was taken with a Canon 50D using a Canon f2.8 40mm pancake lens, and a Vanguard Alta series tripod.  ISO was set to 1600, aperture was f8, and a 20 second shutter speed was used.  Post processing was done in Photoshop Elements where I did a levels adjustment.  It was converted to black and white using Topaz B&W Effects.


Cabin in the Woods – Eastern Adirondacks

Trip to Elizabethtown NY for Susans Wedding and Fall PicsA cabin in the woods, Elizabethtown, NY.  Panasonic DMC G3.  1/100 f8.0 ISO 800.

Cemetery at Night

IMG_9004bwSmThis cemetery is located in Cooperstown, NY, and is a stop on a Ghost Tour you can take during the summer.  This location seemed like a pretty good spot for night photography.  It was a little challenging, because there is a very strong light on a nearby building, so there are some pretty harsh shadows that limit the angles you can shoot from.  However, now that the leaves are gone, the trees have an eerie look about them, so it’s a great time of year for taking some creepy cemetery photos.

This photo was taken with a Canon 50D using a Canon f2.8 40mm pancake lens, and a Vanguard Alta series tripod.  ISO was set to 1600, aperture was f8, and a 20 second shutter speed was used.  Post processing was done in Photoshop Elements where I did a levels adjustment.  It was converted to black and white using Topaz B&W Effects.

Elizabethtown NY – Eastern Adirondack Fall Foliage

A view from the Dolly Family Lodge, Elizabethtown, NY.  Panasonic Lumix DMC-G3, 1/100 f8.0 ISO 800.Trip to Elizabethtown NY for Susans Wedding and Fall Pics