A Quick Tip For Better Sunset Shots

Huntington Beach Pier

Sunset Shots Made Easy

My favorite time of day has always been when the sun starts heading towards the horizon. Especially when there are swirling clouds in the sky to add some color and drama. You can make the scene more dramatic by making a few simple adjustments in your camera. The next time you’re enjoying a sunset take a few shots with different exposure settings. We’ve all taken pictures of sunsets, and I’d wager you were disappointed with the results from time to time. If you let the camera do the work for you, your image may look flat and uninspiring. That’s because the camera did what it’s suppose to, which is to get as close to an even exposure as possible, resulting in dull, unsaturated colors. Take control of the situation, and rescue your next image. I’m not saying you need to go to full manual mode, here is a much simpler solution. Turn your camera dial to aperture priority mode. The meter in the viewfinder or LCD will usually show a little graph ranging from -2 to +2 in increments of 1/3 or 1/2 stops depending on the camera and its current settings. Zero is considered (by the camera) to be the best, or correct exposure. Now find the exposure adjustment dial, and flick it a click or two so it reads a negative value. This is Exposure Compensation, you’re  telling the camera you don’t want to have it decide what a good exposure is. Take the shot, you should see a difference between the shot set at zero, and your new adjustment. The colors in the sky are more saturated, but watch out, if you adjust too far, the image will become too dark, especially below the horizon. Land features like hills, trees, buildings will begin to silhouette below around -1. Sunsets where there is water like a beach or lake are a little more forgiving because light will reflect off the surface. That’s it, now go out there and capture some great sunset shots, but first, take a look at a few examples.

Huntington Beach Pier At Sunset

Huntington Beach Pier At Sunset

Channel Islands Sunset

Channel Islands Sunset

Across The Valley

Across The Valley

Desert Sunburst

Desert Sunburst

Brooding Sunset

Brooding Sunset

 

Related Images:

Shallow Creek Reflections

Shallow Creek Reflections - HDR

Developing Your Ability to ‘See’

Nature preserves are great places to explore and photograph. The variety of subjects to be discovered can provide tons of photographic opportunities, all one needs to do is slow down and ‘see’ what surrounds you.

I say ‘see’ because it is one thing to just walk around and scanning your environment, but it is another to actually take the environment in visually, examining different angles. Becoming in tune with your visual senses allows you to find details that remain hidden if you were to just glance around.

The single most effective way to develop your seeing ability is to simply slow down and take your time. Whether you’re in the middle of a bustling city, or taking an afternoon stroll through a nature preserve, let your eyes and your mind take in the details. Take notice of textures, shadows, and reflections. When something really grabs your attention, explore it further from different angles and perspectives.

When you’re ready to compose your shot in the view finder, pre-visualize how you want your final image to look like, make the necessary adjustments to your camera, and fire away.

The image featured below was a result of using the above exercise. The barren trees seemed too busy when looking at them straight on, however, looking down at the creek presented some possibilities. I found the angle I wanted only after fumbling around trying to balance myself on the slick rocks along the shore. Only after I was confident everything was just right, I deliberately pressed the shutter button.

If you find yourself unable to slow down, the second most important thing that will help you is bring (and use) a tripod. The act of setting up the tripod for a shot inherently forces you to slow down your shooting process; hopefully enough to allow your brain to fully engage in composing your images.

Forest Reflection

Forest Reflection

I hope this little tip helps you with your own photographic adventures. What techniques do you employ while in the act of creating your own works of art? Sound off and leave a comment or two.

Related Images:

SDSU As Seen From My Balcony

SDSU As Seen from my Apartment Balcony

I’ve been trying to capture a sunrise from my balcony for quite some time now, however the sky has been chocked with a thick haze. Every now and then, I am treated with a sky full of character, even if there is no visible sun. I took this shot while I was getting ready to take the kids to school. I had just enough time to set up, take the shot, and take down the tripod and camera.

I forgot about it for a couple of days, and stumbled upon it while I was loading up some other shots I took of my son on the computer. A quick run through with HDR Efex Pro was all it took to bring out all the drama the sky had to offer.

SDSU As Seen from my Apartment Balcony

View From My Balcony – HDR

If you liked this post, do not hesitate to comment, ‘like’ and share.

Related Images:

Keep Taking Pictures When There’s Nothing To Shoot.

Daisy - HDR

No Sunrise

No Sunrise – No Problem

Not Quite What You Expected

Have you ever gotten to a location, only to find it isn’t the grand spectacle you were expecting? You’ve planned to photograph a sunrise weeks in advance, got up extra early the day of the shoot, driven for hours to get to your location only to find the sky is covered with a heavy blanket of clouds.  It can be a downer if you let it, and you may fall into a mind trap thinking, “Well, there’s nothing to shoot now.”

I say hogwash! A situation very similar to the one described above happened to me just a couple weeks ago. What did I do about it? I changed my mind set, and surveyed the landscape. Off to one side of the park were some park benches overlooking the haze covered neighborhoods below. They looked kind of boring to me. Driving up the hill, I noticed a patch of daisies off to the side, even in the pre-dawn light, the yellow popped with vibrancy. I took a closer look, found a spot to set up my tripod and got to work framing and composing several shots. I also took a few shots of the monument I was visiting to add a bit of variety.

There is always something to shoot, you just have to look harder to find it. It may not be what you expected to photograph, but then again, with a flexible creative mind you can find a solution that may be better than your initial subject.

 

Tips To Overcome On Location Stumbling Blocks

Here are a few tips that can help you break through stumbling blocks, and unleash your creative mind.

  • Look for finer details. Instead of grand vistas, break the scene up into smaller and smaller elements until something interesting reveals itself to you.
  • Get close to a subject like flowers, plants, a park bench and make it stand out within the broader scene.
  • Try something new that you haven’t done before, or brush up on an old and rusty technique.
  • Look for different angles. Get down on your belly, ir if you can, get as high as you can (stand on a bench or climb a tree) and shoot down.
Veteran's Memorial

Veteran’s Memorial

Daisy - HDR

Daisy – HDR

 

 

Final Thoughts

When planning on your next photo adventure keep in mind things may not be how you envisioned it. If all else fails, return to the location several times to get the image you want. Another benefit to multiple visits is familiarity.

Related Images:

Backroad California Treasure In HDR

IMG_0628_HDR-Edit-Edit

 

California’s varied landscape is a veritable treasure chest for photographers. From beaches to mountains, and everything in between, one doesn’t have to travel too long for a change of scenery. I was doing some cloud chasing one winter day, and got lost on a country backroad when all of a sudden the sky exploded with texture just as varied as California’s vast landscape. It was about an hour and a half  before sunset, and warm hues were just starting to grace the sky.

I pulled off to the side of the road, and trudged through the roadside tundra towards the barbed wire fence, and stood in awe at the scene before me. I fired off several shots with my camera, and happily drove home.

Whenever there are clouds in the sky, my shutter finger starts twitching, and the urge to drop everything, grab my gear and hit the road is almost unbearable. Especially when I know that somewhere not to far away are scenes just like the one below waiting to be admired, and captured.

Field & Sky - HDR

Field & Sky – HDR

Related Images:

A Simple HDR Comparison

San Diego Blue Hour - HDR

While processing some images I took earlier this week, and going through some of the bracket sets I captured for HDR purposes, a question popped into my head that made me stop and think, and then write…

How Much Of  A Difference Is There Between A Three Frame and Five Frame HDR?

Well, naturally, that depends largely on what software you use to process your HDR images. For this exercise, I used Lightroom, HDR Efex Pro, and DFine2.0. I was curious to see the difference between a 3 shot, and 5 shot HDR image, and which one ‘looked’ better. So lets dig a little deeper into the workflow from capture to final image.

Capturing The Raw Data

Bay View Park on Coronado Island is where I captured the San Diego Skyline just after sunset, when the blues in the sky were at their peak. I set the camera to bracket at full stop increments, the three brackets were set to -2, -1, and 0. The five bracket set was -2, -1, 0, +1, and +2. At the time, I don’t know why I decided to do a 5 frame bracket, but I’m glad I did.

Cooling Off Period and Post Processing

Letting a full day’s worth of shooting cool down for about 48 hours is a recent addition to my workflow. This cooling off period lets my mind rest, and kind of marinate a bit on how I’ll process the images later. I’ve also found that when I go back to review the images, I’m much more efficient throughout the entire post processing session. I also try to remember to take breaks more often than I’ve done in the past. There aren’t any deadlines to worry about and taking a leisurely pace (for me) produces better results. The same is true while capturing images in camera also, slow down, compose, and shoot will often yield better images.

Once I got my images imported into Lightroom, I then exported the three image set into HDR Efex Pro, where I processed them to get the look and feel I wanted, then saved the settings so that I could apply the exact settings to the 5 image set. Once both sets were processed, I dragged them into Dfine 2.0 for noise reduction.

Histogram Comparison

Histogram Comparison

Comparing The Results

I did a side by side comparison, at first glance, they were pretty subtle. A closer look at the histograms gave a better indication of what was going on. The first thing I found was the blue channel in the three frame bracket shows a definitive spike compared to the five frame image. Overall, the profiles have fairly different characteristics. Histograms are one thing, but what do the final images look like side by side? I’m so glad you asked.

Below is a side by side screenshot of the two images, the three frame HDR is on the left, and the five frame HDR on the right. The darks are softer, and gentler in the five shot version, and the range of color gradation from the horizon to the sky is more appealing (to me anyhow).

Screen Shot 2013-03-29 at 3.02.21 PMFinal thoughts

This fun little experiment is not by any means a definitive answer to the question of how many frames should one use to create an HDR image. To answer that question, I’ll simply say take as many as you need to that make sense, and fit your own workflow. Whether you are using a single image, or a baker’s dozen, or more, it all comes down to the final image. Speaking of which, here is my final image for this post…enjoy.

San Diego Blue Hour - HDR

San Diego Blue Hour – HDR

What is your HDR workflow like? How many frames is too many? Feel free to comment and share your techniques.

 

Related Images:

The Joy of Solitary Pursuits

Pulled Into The Sea

 

To me, photography is what I like to call a solo activity. This is especially true when I’m out exploring the little corner of the world I happen to be in. The rest of the world kind of fades away, so that all that exists is myself and my gear. This is one of the greatest joys I get from making images. Its a zone where I can escape and relax.

It doesn’t stop the moment I trigger the shutter button either. When I load up and process my images, I can easily bounce right back into that zone again. The danger though, is I can easily get lost there too…it’s like receding waves pulling me into the sea.

Pulled Into The Sea

Pulled Into The Sea

Related Images:

Alone I Stand – Near The Salton Sea

Alone I Stand – Near The Salton Sea

Related Images:

%d bloggers like this: