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Photography Question 

Sunrises and Sunsets

What is the best exposure for sunrise and sunset photography? I have a Nikon d40X, and also a F2.8 105mm macro lens and a 18-200mm 3.5 -5.6. I'm going to Florida where I think the best sunsets are. Should I shoot manual??

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4/14/2008 9:42:05 AM

John P. Sandstedt
BetterPhoto Member Since: 8/8/2001
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  Set your camera for Aperture Priority. Take a reading off the sky near, but not necessarily close to the ball of flame [Ole Sol.] Then shoot - use RAW, however.

With RAW you really don't need to bracket your exposure. You can expect +/- 3 stops of exposure adjustment if you use Photoshop.
Put a polarizer on your lens and take an exposure reading looking directly at the sun. Don't stare at the fireball yourself. Then compose your picture. You might be surprised at the great "black clouds" in your shot.

And, do turn away from the sun to see what's behind you in the way of great skies and color.

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4/14/2008 12:13:29 PM

Bob Cammarata
BetterPhoto Member Since: 7/17/2003
  Florida may or may not have "the best sunsets", but the Sunshine State IS one of the few places around where one can shoot a seascape sunrise and sunset on the same day without burning a whole lot of gas.
I agree with what John S. said and would like to add a few other points to consider:
It's true that metering off the sky to the right or left of a setting (or rising) sun will give you a good reading. This works very well if the sky is blue ... but not so well if there are dark clouds in the frame during metering. In this scenario, you will need to compensate (1 stop-down) to prevent over-exposure.
Bracketing is recommended whenever shooting during extreme conditions if you want to avoid a lot of fixing later.
Try to include a subject or point of interest in the foreground. Don't expect that vibrant sunset to carry the day by itself. A passing ship, the interesting shape of an object on shore, a couple jogging along the beach, or even just someone admiring the sunset will add interest and a focal point to that great background.
And, as John suggested ... DO turn around and see the magic light and interesting shadows that are developing behind you.

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4/14/2008 2:05:36 PM

Pete H
BetterPhoto Member Since: 8/9/2005

There are many ways to shoot a sunset/sunrise. There are many dynamics in this as mentioned, exposure AND composition.

Here's two ideas for you out of many possibilities:

Wait til the lower limb of the sun is touching the horizon. Zoom fully to 200mm; this makes the sun look bigger. Meter off the reflection in the water, NOT the sun. You won't believe how fast all this takes place. I highly recommend a tripod to be sure your horizon line is straight. Finally, compose so the horizon line is either 1/3 above center or below...don't bisect the frame. Yuck! LOL
Also, don't restrict yourself to shooting horizontal; try a few vertical.

Bracketing is always a good idea with sunsets/sunrises as the dynamic exposure range in such a shot is far to wide to get all the detail you see with your eye; the ultimate camera.

2) Take 2 shots. One for exposing the sky and water and one for the foreground, maybe the beach with crashing waves etc... If you have some basic experience with post processing, you can then "sandwich" the two shots" and use "erasure" technique to get a nice balanced shot.
As has already been said, just shooting the sun and water is pretty B-O-R-I-N-G!

all the best,


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4/14/2008 7:24:23 PM

Samuel Smith
BetterPhoto Member Since: 1/21/2004
  welcome marianne,
this is expierence vs chance.
a 300 with a 2x converter,a 28mm prime,setting.
boring as it may be some of us prefer it over this portrait crap.or weddings or.yet I must agree if it isin't unique.
for complete instruction we would have to be standing next to and slap you in the head every time you attempted to make a mistake.
go 2 or 3 stops over or under with a fussy kid.add fill flash and ps...
temps,humidity and weather fronts coming through are clear parts of your goal,not I will be there at this doesn't matter where your at.
it's quite possible an instructor will step in and explain it better.
there is no best exposure,and then there is.i think bob was the closest yet pete took a shot,hope I passed the test,sam

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4/14/2008 8:51:28 PM

Paul D.
BetterPhoto Member Since: 1/25/2006
  Hi Marianne,

Here's a bulleted list of where to start:

    Use a tripod!

    Get a 2-stop or 3-stop Graduated Neutral Density filter to tone down the brighter sky (evens out the exposure of land vs sea). Move the filter around until the separating line lines up with the horizon. You don't want a screw-in type, they limit you to the center. Get the best, the Singh-Ray P size. Link is below.

    Start at f/18 and 1/8 sec at ISO 100 in manual exposure mode.

    BRACKET! Move your shutter speed up and down for each exposure. You'll know if the exposure is correct based on the histogram.

    If you don't want the expense of an ND Grad filter, you can take two exposures and blend them together. I prefer to get the exposure correct when shooting, just a matter of preference.

The filter link:

An article explaining ND grads:


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4/15/2008 7:08:23 AM

BetterPhoto Member Since: 10/16/2006
  Greetings, Just a location thought from someone who lives in Florida, you mentioned sunrise-sunset seascapes in a day that means your going to be in central to southern part of state. You might grab a local map and see what lakes and rivers are in your area. Lots of good background shapes around them. Here is a link to the state parks. Have a good trip. C.C.

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4/15/2008 9:07:02 AM

Michael McCullough   I really try to keep it simple by under exposing by a stop or so to pop the colours!

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4/30/2008 11:28:06 AM

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