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I'm a Cairns, far north Queensland, Australia professional photographer specialising in travel, editorial and environmental portraiture.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Travel sunrises and sunsets

Now the experts tell us that people are the most popular subject for photography, but I'm willing to take a bet that sunrises and sunsets are pretty high up there in the top rankings.

The thing with a sunrise (or sunset) is - they pretty much look the same all over the world. The sun that is. If all you have in your sunset photo is a bright ball and some sky then you haven't got a travel photo. You've got a nature photo.

There's nothing wrong with that of course, but seeing as this is a blog about travel photography and not nature photography per se I thought I'd run through some things you can do to make a travel sunset.

The clue is what you put in the foreground. Because the sun and the bright orange sky are so bright compared to everything around them, usually anything you put in the foreground will turn into a silhouette. Rather like our frames that we talked about a couple of months ago.

In a sense our silhouettes are frames, although in this case they don't have to be at the edges of the pictures, they can be anywhere. But just like our frames, in order for them to be relevant they have to be travel-related.

In other words they need to tell people exactly where you're watching the sunset from. You could put anything in there - the roof of a temple, profile of a famous statue, unique fishing boat. Whatever, as long as it can be used as a visual location clue.

The photo above is a bit of a tricky one. The birds are a bit hard to see at this small size but they are Marabou Storks which are a species of bird found in Africa. This photo was taken in the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania. If they'd been in an Umbrella Acacia tree it would have been perfect but alas it was not to be! :)

In terms of exposing a sunrise or sunset you have a number of choices depending on how bright or dark you want everything around the sun. If you take an exposure reading directly off the brightest part of the sun everything else will turn black! Not usually a good look but it will give you a cracker red sun (but not much else!)

The farther away from the sun you take your exposure reading the brighter the rest of the frame will be. In the photo above I locked in an exposure reading of an area of sky about 45 degrees away from the sun. A quick check of your camera's histogram will tell you if you're in the right place. Just be careful not to make the picture so bright that you burn out the sun completely.

Another little hint is to carry a compass with you when you travel and know what time the sun rises and sets in the places you're visiting. That way when you arrive at a destination and you're just walking around and you see somewhere that could make a nice sunset silhouette you can pull out your compass to see if it's facing in the right direction. Aim to get to your destination well before the sun comes up (or goes down as the case may be) and you'll have plenty of time to set up and enjoy the light show.

Oh and before I forget, the longer the telehoto lens, the bigger the sun! I have a mate who figured out a way to stick about four tele-extenders all together on his 300mm lens to give himself some obscene focal length. It was so dark looking through the viewfinder though that the only thing he could ever photograph was the sun. But man did he get some great photos! :)

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