I only have one word for this shot. WOW! Of course, I am a sucker for a great sunset photo. The way the bright orange just bursts forth and diffuses itself through the clouds will always take my breath away. We discussed how you can take pictures like this in a previous tutorial, but I would like to use this critique to discuss it in more detail. It takes a lot of playing around with camera settings to get something like this. The more patient you are, and the more you enjoy trying out different settings, the more likely you are to stumble upon a shot like this one.
This photo was sent in by David Lambert. He told me he is happy with the way the color turned out, and he said the “boat isn’t completely silhouetted.” I don’t know, David. I think you hit the boat right on the money. There are a lot of great things about this photo. So many, in fact, that it’s hard to know where to start.
How to get the perfect golden sun
So let’s start with the sun. If there is any reason to learn how to use the manual settings on your camera it is in order to take a good picture of the sun. David had no choice but to manually control the shutter speed on his camera. Whenever you point a camera directly at the sun and try to take a picture of it with the automatic settings, your camera gets confused by all of the extra light and ends up taking the picture with a very fast shutter speed. This will result in a very dark picture.
Why won’t the automatic mode allow you to take a photo like this? Well, think of it this way. The software in your camera was designed to take one kind of picture the best, and that is a picture of something with a light source on it. The programmers never figured out a way to program the camera to “know” when you are taking a picture of the light source itself, so the automatic mode will always fail to capture sunsets correctly. The software just keeps assuming you are trying to take an ordinary picture.
Playing around with manual settings
David got a fantastic golden orange color in this photo. To get it, he had to use the manual mode and play around with the camera’s shutter speed, checking his work along the way. For the sake of learning something new, let’s assume he started with an aperture of f8 and a shutter speed of 1/1000 of a second. He then took this picture, but it turned out too dark.
The next step for David, and for you, is to ratchet down the shutter speed one notch to, say, 1/750 sec and see what colors it produces. Is the picture too dark? Is it too bright? Keep asking yourself these questions and continue to tweak the settings until you hit the perfect combination of aperture and shutter speed. The key to using manual settings on your camera is to be willing to experiment. Never assume you know what will work right away. Always check again and again.
Always start with the aperture
Some people tell me they don’t know where to start with manual photography, and I always tell them to start with the aperture. If you know which aperture you’re going to use, everything else just falls into place. While I can’t tell you which aperture photos are best for all kinds of photos in this small space, anything between f8 and f11 will work really well for a sunset photo like this one.
Why would I choose any aperture between f8 and f11? These aperture values are versatile. They provide just enough depth of field and detail without putting everything in the frame too sharply into focus. With the aperture slightly closed like this, David cannot miss the boat (quite literally!).
For the record, David chose 1/400 shutter speed, f5.6 and ISO 100 for his great shot.
I should also mention how important it is to practice your manual settings and to keep trying to take pictures like this. The sun is never just above the horizon for very long. The quicker you are with your camera’s settings, the better chances you will have of getting the best shot possible for the situation you are in. Don’t give up. When you anticipate a great sunset like this is going to happen, grab your camera and run for the door. You might get as lucky as David did here.
I want to thank David again for this shot. It demonstrates a grasp of manual camera settings that can take quite some time to learn.
And to everyone else, please keep sending me your photos. I enjoy writing these as much as you enjoy reading them!
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