Seascapes and sunsets are by far the only couple who have been shot more times than the whole of Hollywood combined. The allure of the golden rays of the sun playing upon the sweeping waves of the coast is very very strong, and honestly, it’s this X-factor that makes me go back to the coast week in week out. Given that sunset shots are so clichéd, what are the ways in which you can make your image stand out from the crowd? This is a question that I’ve asked myself a million times! (And still do for good measure)
Here are some things I’ve found useful :
Be there way ahead of time: Trust me this helps. There have been many, many, many times when I’ve walked out 20 minutes before sunset and then quickly found a spot that I thought was interesting at that point of time. A few shots later, I’d find out that I have a brilliant sky and setting sun to boot, but the foreground would be just bleh… I cannot emphasize the benefits of going to the location well in advance and having a good look around first. You don’t need to shoot the first thing you see as soon as you reach the spot. I know most of us are trigger happy and go ballistic as soon as the tripod is down and steady. You may get a good shot out of sheer luck, but there’s no substitute to good planning.
Tripod, Tripod, Tripod: One of the biggest advantages of the tripod is that it takes away the camera from your hands. I don’t mean to say you don’t have steady hands, but in low light, the only way you can hand hold a camera and pull off a shot is by yanking the ISO up beyond “The Point of No Return“. Why you ask? Well, typically, the Depth of Field ( i.e. how far into the image things are in focus) for landscape shots is pretty high, meaning you’d be cranking down your aperture to somewhere in the league of f/16 and beyond. The tripod guarantees a shake free exposure, no matter how long the shutter is open. Plus, I’ve found it very easy to recompose shots when the camera is mounted on the tripod. For example, it lets you get down low, close to the ground without you risking running huge chiropractor bills. Also, you can make fine adjustments to the shot quite easily. A tripod is your trusty sidekick! Never leave home without it.
Composition and Pre-visualization: One of the best pieces of advice that I ever got was that a successful photograph is made not taken. I used to wonder what that meant. If you know what kind of a shot you are looking for before you actually go out to shoot, you have such an unbelievable advantage. There are so many photographers who plan so meticulously for a shot. What separates a good shot from a great one is usually this. For example, knowing exactly where the sun is setting. This valuable piece of information tells you exactly how light would hit the subject, etc. Another example would be knowing how low or high the tides would be and so forth. Composition is something that makes or breaks the shot. You may have the perfect light, perfect exposure and what not. But, if your composition is messed up, then no amount of Photoshop can save you. I’ve learnt this the hard way. There are so many images that I have in my hard drive that have all the right elements, but the composition is not up to the mark, so the picture as a whole fails.
Patience is key: Wait for the right light. Photography means “Painting with Light”. Landscape photography is frustrating many times because you have to wait. There’s no fast forward button. But more often than not, patience is rewarded. You can get fantastic results just by shooting 5 minutes later than earlier, simply because the light was better. The blue hour for example is a classic case. I’ve seen so many people take pictures until the sun has set and then just pack up and leave. Seriously, that’s like digging 100 feet into the ground looking for gold and going back home disappointed when actually the gold was just one more foot below! Wait, wait, and wait some more. When you have finished doing that, wait some more. Light is such a powerful thing, and the best pictures exploit light to the hilt.
Post Processing – Before and After:
Here is an image which shows the shot before and after post processing. It wasn’t very hard to process this one as most of the work was done during the actual shot. There are 3 key elements in this shot, namely, the sky, the foreground rocks and the wave. In post, my goal was simple: Bring out as much detail and contrast in these three areas. I used some curves adjustments with masks in each of these three areas. Also, I selectively sharpened the rocks and added some “glow” using luminosity masks. There you go!
Questions? Ideas? Suggestions? Feel free to leave them in the comments!