Have you ever wondered just what it takes to get a “good” sunset picture? Cameras have become so readily available to us now with the digital age and camera phones, which seem to take decent pictures, but there’s much more to it than just pushing a button, right? Well, of course there is!
Photography is a wonderful art form, but it can be complicated. One of the most important components of photography is exposure. This is the balance between shutter speed, ISO, and aperture. Although, most cameras these days have an “auto mode”, this simple setting does not capture the best image.
When it comes to exposure, there is no right or wrong. Photography is art and every artist has a different vision. Most of us are not attempting to communicate deep or even simple messages with our images, we are purely trying to capture the moment. In this case, there is a trick!
Unlike film, digital photography is limited and can only capture so many levels of light in a single click. The trick, especially when photographing a sunset experience session, is to avoid over exposing an image and losing detail in the sky. If you are composing a sunset with a foreground, typically the foreground is much darker, which confuse a camera’s exposure meter. The camera might try to balance the exposure, preserving detail in the dark foreground, while losing detail in the sky.
The trick is to underexpose the picture slightly, exposing for the bright sky. This will let the foreground go dark. It is much easier to recover detail in the shadow portion of a digital image when editing than it is to recover the highlights and brighter areas. Lost detail in the highlights are nearly unrecoverable.
One recommendation would be to set the +/- (exposure compensation) to -1/3 so the camera will automatically underexpose. This technique is actually called “push processing” and will make your pictures have more vibrant and saturated colors, with greater contrast.
A rule of thumb to keep in mind: underexpose slightly to preserve highlights and edit to bring back shadow detail. Happy shooting!
-written by Michael (Pacific Dream Photography at Grand Hyatt, Kauai)