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Photography Question 
Sherry Simpler

Photographing a sunset

Sunsets on the beach are so beautiful but I haven't had much luck in capturing one that truly reveals what my eye sees. Because the sun is so bright, everything else turns out dark and I lose the color of the water and sky. Could you please suggest the camera settings that would render a more true to life picture?

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Tom    Sunsets in general can be a bit tricky. Hopefully you have a SLR or other type of camera that can accept filters. Get a graduated neutral density filter. One that is half grey and half clear that will fit your lens. Align the division so that it lines up with the horizon. This should make the water brighter without washing out the sky. Bracket your exposures and snap away.

Another tip. Don't meter off the sun. That's what's causing everything but the sun to go black.

If you have a point and shoot camera you're probably out of luck.

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John A. Lind
BetterPhoto Member Since: 9/27/2001
  Generally I'm shooting sky and clouds, not the sun, and have found waiting until the sun just disappears usually gets a better sky. If the clouds are right, the sky and cloud colors will change dramatically every few minutes as the sun slips below your local cloud cover and illuminates them from below them. I shoot bracketed frames every few minutes for upward of 30 minutes after the sun sets. The best of them are selected after developing.

If you wait until the last bit of sun is about to disappear, the point where the sun met the horizon will be very bright, but not nearly as much as fully above the horizon. If you have center-weighted metering, use the "rule of thirds" (divide your frame into thirds vertically and horizontally). You want to place the bulk of the center-weighting on your metering off of the bright sun and on the sky instead.

Place the sun-horizon point on a vertical 1/3 line and the horizon line at or just below the bottom horizontal 1/3 line. With the bulk of sunrises and sunsets you don't have to worry about converging vertical lines. You can tilt the camera upward without problems. An exception is in an urban area with buildings, especially tall ones sihlouetted by a sunset.

Sunrises are trickier as you don't know when the sun will emerge. I do those by being there and setting up while the sky is still black, about an hour before local sunrise, and wait. Bracketed frames are done every few minutes when the first deep red hues appear on the clouds.

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