A Reverse Sunset – ever heard of them? well lets read on…
Everyone doing landscape photography and nature photography loves sunsets and sunrises. Even more so, everyone doing Australian landscape photography… There, I’ve said it! and its very likely that indeed everyone who takes landscape photographs and (maybe even more) panoramic photography, indeed did start out with searching for the colour riot that gives instant gratification. As our journey continues, and we maybe get more into the ‘photographic art’ side of it all, maybe then, after a while we start to seek the more subtle.
The problem with Sunsets
The tendency when we start out is, of course, to point the camera at the setting sun – when is it still above the horizon. The result is a silhouette with a yellow or orange sky. Very popular a few decades ago. Lots of black! The problem here is inherent contrast when you point the camera at the sun. As we grow, we learn to take such images after the sun is below the horizon, and when we get to so-called ‘expert’ we can process multiple images and get good results with a mere smidge of the sun above the horizon. So much to learn, so much time taken in post-processing!
Its all about too much contrast, the setting sun is sooo many stops brighter than any shadow detail in the foreground that the camera cannot cope.
An easier approach
There is a much easier way to get colour in the sky in your images. Simply look the other way – east – at sunset! It’s a little counter-intuitive so let me give you an example. I am notoriously bad at getting out of bed. Give me a sunset over a sunrise nine times out of ten. However, to get my landscape photography prints for sale, shouldn’t I try a bit harder? I live in Sydney, and the sun rises over the ocean and set over the land. If I want to get colour in the sky over the ocean, I have to get up very early indeed. Or I can check the cloud forecast and, if there are a few middle or high clouds looking good, if I go to the ocean, the last rays of the setting sun in the west will nicely colour the clouds over the sea.
How to get the best results
It all sounds so easy, doesn’t it? Though there sounds like there might be a downside as it’s too good to be true? And indeed there is, but it can be overcome by using your eyes and a couple of apps. And patience.
The key as noted above is to check just how many clouds there are. High level wispy clouds are brilliant, as are medium level clouds. And note also if those clouds appear to be building up or dissipating in the hours before sunset. The clouds will need to be in the Eastern part of the sky at Sunset. Or rather, anywhere from South in an arc all the way through East all the way to North. You are likely to get a much wider image with a reverse sunset than you will if you shoot a direct west-facing sunset. All you are seeking is coloured clouds, (can be in any place) rather than fixating on a setting sun (yep, one place only).
Shooting the reverse Sunset
This is the easiest bit of the lot. Sunsets are inherently such high-contrast that you will need to be at least past-the-beginner stage to read the histogram and all that good stuff. As the light from a reverse sunset is so even, you can pretty much point and shoot. Of course you will be using a tripod.
Finally – Something to Consider
You are out ‘in the moment’ and the sun is setting. Beside a road leading to the mountains in the mid-distance. There are some clouds, although not many, framing the setting sun. You have found a lovely foreground, and balanced everything in your viewfinder according to the Rule of Thirds, and taken a while to set up your tripod on uneven ground. Will the colour go off? It’s a 50/50 call.
You look behind you, just as I have outlined in the first few sections of this blog. The high clouds, which weren’t there ten minutes ago, have started to build up. And – it is starting to turn just a smidge of pink.
What do you do? If you have two cameras, two sets of filters and and two tripods and can sllloooowwww down time for a few minutes you are OK. Should you ‘burn’ the image you had set out to take, or should you hurriedly re-think and re-compose. The classic question for landscape photography do’s and don’ts. Sunset or Reverse sunset?
I’ll leave you both with that thought, and two images…