Sunset settings....

Started Apr 10, 2013 | Discussions thread
William Woodruff Regular Member • Posts: 482
Re: Understanding exposure

I think that we may have skipped something really important here.  The question was what exposure to use for sunsets.  I think that the first answer (alluded to, but not actually stated in some previous posts) is that it depends on what image you are trying to create.

So the first question that I would suggest you ask yourself is, "What is the subject of the image I am creating?"  This is really important because, by definition, your subject is the most important exposure point in your image.  Is the sun itself the subject?  (Probably not, but could be.)  Is the color in the sky/clouds your subject?  (More likely, but also more likely to lead to the colorful, but boring photos discussed above.)  Perhaps your subject is a mountain range that has that has taken on the colors of a brilliant sunset painting color across its granite face.  (Now we're on to something.  John Muir memorably referred to the Eastern Sierra Nevada Range as "the Range of Light" for exactly this reason.)  Is the subject your Aunt Bertha, standing on the beach with a sunset behind her?  Do you want her to be recognizable?  (You will need a flash or HDR ability.)  Or does your Aunt Bertha, like mine, look better as a silhouette against the majestic sunrise/sunset?  (In this case, simply meter the sunset itself, and shoot away.)

If you don't know the answer to the question above, "what is the subject," then there literally is no correct exposure.

Note, for example, the photo posted above of the tree silhouetted against the sunset.  It is an absolutely brilliant photo.  It is not an accident.  As the poster noted, most people do not think about a 700 mm lens for a sunset shot, but this photographer knew what his primary subject was -- the tree.  He also recognized that the drama of that colorful background was all the more spectacular by emphasizing the secondary subject, the sun, not by trying to capture a wide expanse of color with a wide-angle lens, but bey carving out the best of what was there, the sun itself and the color immediately around it.  Because this was a silhouette, the exposure then became simply a matter of exposing for the sunset itself.  (Poster, feel free to correct me if that sounds wrong to you.)

But it all starts with knowing what your subject is.

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