Doing my assignments capturing images for Explore Sutton I often get to capture the sun setting at a local attraction. These images often produce a lot of reactions from viewers.
A beautiful sunset captured correctly is always captivating. That said, photographing sunsets isn’t just a point and shoot action. Firstly, you are shooting directly into the sun and that goes against the norms.
Shooting into the sun means only one part of your subject is proper exposed. That is either the sky or the ground. If you expose for the sky, you get everything else dark/black and loose all the detail in the foreground and background. Exposing for the landscape/subject results in the sky being overexposed and you loose all the details and colours in the sky.
A solution to this is HDR, where you take an multiple exposures. One for the whole scene, another for the sky, and the last for the landscape. Then merge them in post to get a single image with the whole scene properly exposed. This solution sounds perfect right? But to do this you need a tripod for perfect alignment and a HDR look isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. For a candid style photographer like me a handheld shot at the right moment beats a staged shot any day even in landscapes. I’m shooting into the light so my shutter speeds are high enough to freeze the scene and override any camera shake.
So instead of turning to HDR, I prefer to expose correctly for the sky to get all the details in the sky then overexpose it just a bit. This lowers the shutter speed allowing more light from the scene. What this does is give me all the colours and details I need to work with in post for the sky. Though at first the sky looks a bit washed out on the camera LCD, you also get a bit of light and details in the foreground.
The benefit of capturing sunsets like this is that the photograph retains the nature look of the scene. You are also within the dynamic range of your camera to produce an image with the least amount of graining and artefacts. I find that you can always just darken the sky or brighten the ground just a little bit to give you even more details in the scene as it was at the moment you pressed the shutter button. It also saves you a ton of time during post processing and you get a natural looking finished image.