Sunset photography ambivalence

Last weekend, actually just the day after I took those shots presented in the post right before this, I took a bus to a place I’ve been seeing on my way to work for a good while now. I’ve been meaning to shoot it, only I’ve never quite gotten to the point of actually going there on a day off. I decided to try to match the sunset by going there approximately one hour due time.

The shadows were long and the colours were there. Well, maybe not if you turn it black and white in the post processing…

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Back to the colours: yeah, they were indeed there.

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The birches were looking magnificient, but I was having problems catching their colours with my camera and also while colour correcting in ACR. I still enjoyed the details of the branches and the symmetrical yet living sense they gave me and felt that turning them black and white was just the right thing to do.

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Here’s going for a 9:16 aspect ratio in an attempt to further enhance the majestic feeling the birches impressed me with.

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And back to the good old 2:3 again, only this time with slightly more washed out blacks.

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But let’s hold on for a minute and get back to the initial intention with this post; that which was alluded in the title. Sunsets are both dear and… well not so dear to me. I appreciate the concept of getting the maximum out of a scene by shooting it at sunset in order to get those mindblowing colours. While I aknowledge that looking for that glorious light is a key part of photography in general, I still think it is also about being able to unexpected things with any given lighting situation. See, when it comes to sunset photography (or sunrise for that matter) there is that intense feeling of stress that comes with it. Partly this is because I am now very rusty, coming from the winter season where sunlight is scarse and sunsets even more so. When that golden light starts hitting the scene it brings my pulse up and my brain just doesn’t seem to function the way it’s supposed to.

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Do I use my tripod? Will I shoot handheld? Am I to bracket in order to be able to blend exposures or even focusing to maximise that depth of field? I ended up walking straight into a deep mudhole and had to spend the next two hours all wet and freezing from it.

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One of the biggest factors in photography that I enjoy is being able to control a situation, analyse it and bring the best of it in my shots. This requires time, and often lots of it. I do not enjoy shooting with a tripod, period. It’s just not how I work my way around a camera. It leaves me feeling handicapped. I like taking lots of pictures trying out hundreds of different compositions rather than sticking to one shot and waiting out the light.

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I know of photographers that will watch the same scene and shoot repeated shots through the different variations of light. See, in a sunset the light will change virtually every minute. The quality of light differs depending on how many particles it will have to cross and in what angle it will hit the earth. Is it going through clouds or trees? Almost parallel to the grund or straight onto it from the sky? Just look at how the colours and the deepness of the shadows and the punchiness of the highlights differ in the shots in this post, all taken within pretty much an hour.

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I think I lost my train of thought somewhere within all of this rambling. Point is, still, that I am most torn when it comes to sunset photography. Yes, it brings amazing qualities to the light and it can make virtually any scene magical and a great scene perfect. Still, it brings me that stress, that awkwardness with working with a tripod and that bitter-sweet feeling to it.

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All in all, I will keep shooting sunsets and hunting that light. But I don’t want to be bound by it, to have to shoot scenes bathing in that golden light. That’s not all there is to photography and definitely not all there is to landscape photography, contrary to what alot of people seem to think (on the internet especially).

The funny thing here is that, even though I came here to take a few particular shots, I never really did get to take those. I had intended on moving even further ino the fields to a specific place with some interesting fences and firs. This means I still have an area to cover, and shoot, for another trip. I guess that’s what’s up for me sometime in the future. I like that idea of seeing a (hopefully) neverending horizon of potential shots rather than a finite number. Once there for a second time I hope to discover something new, sparkle a new interest and add new to-dos to my list.

/Martin

6 thoughts on “Sunset photography ambivalence

    • Thank you! Yes, I am also happy with that one from a compositional perspective. I only wish I would have found a nice composition for the reflective water pools as well, but I guess you can’t have it all in each shot 🙂

  1. Interesting post – and the tripod thing is a conundrum I went through myself 🙂 I used to feel hampered by it but now I rarely photograph without one. Apart from slowing you down and REALLY looking at what you’re about to photograph I found that being able to use longer exposures opened up a whole new photographic world.
    As for shooting in the ‘golden hour’: the colours and light are fabulous (if you’re lucky!) but photographic subjects are limitless – as is the light that shows them off best! I’m absolutely with you on not being bound by ‘rules’ of how and when to photograph.

    • Cheers! What do you think happened that eventually made you like using a tripod again? My tripod isn’t necessarily the worst piece of equipment there is out there, but at the same time I’m thinking getting a studier one might be an idea. On the other hand that just brings me back to the issue with thinking more gear will solve everything… 😉

      • Getting a decent tripod that was easy to use! Seriously though, that was the main reason – and persevering for a while until it became ‘essential’. It seemed a bit of a pain at times (as does carrying it around!) but definitely worth all the effort in the end.
        If you go for a new tripod make sure it’s sturdy enough to cope with your camera and a 70-200 f2.8 lens – then you won’t need to change it when you get one 🙂 Also make sure the legs can be moved independently and it’s worth getting a separate head (one with a quick release plate). It’s more expensive but gives greater flexibility in terms of a set up that suits you and allows you to swap tripod/head if needs be. For example, on our motorcycle tours I take a smaller tripod but am still able to use the same head. More gear doesn’t solve everything – but, in moderation, it can help 🙂

      • Hmm. Yes, I have been thinking in those terms. There’s just all that much gear to buy, haha. My main goal for now is to get a 24 70 and 70 200 for landscaping on a full frame and then I will move from there.

        Thank you for stopping by and for the food for thought, anyways 🙂

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