I saw an interesting article is a recent copy of Australian Artist, it was the forth instalment of a 4 part workshop challenge series on Mastering Sunsets by Richard Roberston. He correctly identifies that a brightly coloured sky and deep shadows in the foreground is a very difficult subject to photograph correctly. and offers a simple way to expose the setting sun & sky correctly (point the camera towards the sun and half press the shutter and hold it, then move to get the composed image you want and then fully press the button releasing the shutter). Next take a second exposure for the shadows (by pointing at them and again half pressing the shutter and returning to the composition you want before pressing the shutter fully) The article them moves on to describe “how to paint better than a camera” and it focuses on “seeing” (and analysing) colour and tone However the sunset is a fleeting event and even an great artist will have to work fast to record even a small sketch, but that sketch and time spent looking for and understanding the the true difference between what a camera sees and what the human eye sees, will give the artist the ability to lift a studio painting to the next level even when they are using a photo or photos as extra reference.
I actually think the same logic can be applied by a photographer but the photographer may be at a disadvantage if he is not familiar with looking for the chromatic value and tonality in colour, (with his eye rather than just his camera). Further few photographers carry around a sketch book (other than me) so they need to do a few observations and commit them to memory.
Tonal (an artist will squint, but you can just look through the viewfinder and set your camera slightly out of focus)
- Look for the big areas of similar tone?
- What are the natural positive and negative shapes? (maybe you need to find a interesting negative shape in the foreground to balance the composition)
- Where is the lightest, brightest part?
- Where are the shadows and how dark do they appear?
Dominant colours (again looking at the de-focused image in your viewfinder can help)
- What are the 5 dominant colours? (don’t just say yellow or orange for a sunset, there will be more)
- Given the colours a name? (use your own favourite/pet names, you’ll remember them better)
- Give the a colours a shade? (its tonal strength, pale, bright, desaturated, dark )
- Is the colour scheme Harmonious, Complimentary, Analogous? (an artist might drop a colour that conflicts with the overall scheme, you’ll have to do this in post)
If you have a camera that takes RAW image format and you have software to post process it, take you photo in this format because you may be able to tease out some of these memories. Remember an unprocessed RAW file can look very flat even compared with the equivalent jpeg. It will have to be post processed for sure!
This is a place from which I have sketched and photographed many sunsets, and over last weekend there where a couple decent ones. It is a nice place because the lacy texture of the banksia forms an interesting silhouette and strong foreground.
Out of Camera
|Tonal & |
|After Shot Pro |
|Perfect Photo Suite |
Magic Landscape preset
Whilst the difference may not be dramatic if you start with reasonable exposures. I am including these comparisons so yu can see it is possible to tweak the information in a RAW file to give you a richer image, perhaps more like you remember when you witnessed the sunset (You did commit to memory the tonality and colours you saw, didn’t you!)
The other alternative, and it is a good one, is to take a bracketed set of exposures. The logic here is even if your camera’s lightmeter makes a wrong selection, for the best average exposure you should get at least one ok image. If you have access to HDR software then this set of different exposures can be combined to give a fuller dynamic range. If you have a google+ photo account and use autobackup, google may create an autoawsome HDR* for you when it recognizes a suitable bracket set of jpeg images. Unfortunately these can sometimes be a little lurid and over saturated.
As the sun sinks slowly in the west
... or so we remember?