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” 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.