Christmas Sunset Surprise

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Grace means more than gifts. In grace something is transcended, once and for all overcome. Grace happens in spite of something; it happens in spite of separateness and alienation. Grace means that life is once again united with life, self is reconciled with self. Grace means accepting the abandoned one. Grace transforms fate into a meaningful vocation. It transforms guilt to trust and courage. The word grace has something triumphant in it.  – Yrjo Kallinen

(This is my first post using my new writing style. I call it “grammar and punctuation don’t matter”. It is part of my plan to post more frequently by spending less time on each individual post. As I write this, it does not sound like a good idea to sacrifice quality for volume. However, not to be inconvenienced by logic, I am going to try it.)

On Christmas day, the sky was heavily overcast. There had been rain the night before.  I expected that there would be no visible sunset. However I also knew that some of the most spectacular sunsets occur as the sky is clearing after bad weather. An hour before sunset, the sky was clearing a little on the other side of the mountain range, about 10 miles away toward the west. Not expecting to find anything worth photographing, I went to a spot with a panoramic view of the sky and mountain range. The sun then set uneventfully (no color), hidden behind clouds.  However, five minutes after the actual setting of the sun, the overcast condition quickly broke up, and the sky became bright gold in front of me plus overhead, to the sides and behind me. Then the sky turned pink briefly and faded away. Wow! I could not capture the entire amount of sky involved. To include as much sky as possible, I took several series of images for panoramic composites.

My willingness to take the camera to what I expected to be a “no show” sunset, led to experiencing one of the top ten sunsets of my life. This caused me to think about other aspects of successful sunset photography.

  • Go often: The majority of sunsets will not be impressive.  However, if you are not there, you cannot get images of the great sunsets when they do occur. (I am still unable to predict whether a sunset will be exceptional).
  • Arrive early: Sun rays coming through clouds (traditionally called “God rays” by photographers) can be most prominent up to an hour before the sun actually sets. Plus, arriving early will allow you to scout out good locations and foreground subjects.
  • Stay late: The best color (pink and red) often occur 20 to 25 minutes after the sun sets.
  • Bring a tripod: Exposures of the last pink or red can be several seconds in duration.
  • The most dramatic sunsets occur when the weather is changing, particularly when bad weather is moving out.
  • Unless a sunset is spectacular, include a foreground object. The easiest way to do this is with the foreground object is as a silhouette. If a silhouette is not used, correct exposure for both this object and the sky simultaneously requires either a neutral density filter or bracketed exposures used for high dynamic range (HDR) processing. (HDR processing is the technique that I personally like. It is surprisingly easy. First bracket your exposure for 3 frames in increments of 1 to 2 stops. Then process them with software such as Photomatix from http://www.hdrsoft.com which offers a free trial of their software. This is a good starting point for shooting HDR, although this technique, to be mastered, is very complex.)

Image processing:

  • I processed the original RAW  format images in Photoshop Elements raw converter.
  • Brightness, vibrance and clarity were added.
  • Noise, both luminance and color, were reduced.
  • A tiny bit of sharpening was added.

Here is the result on a single frame.

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Although improved via raw converter processing, the images (like the single frame above), the color is a little dull and the lighting a little flat. Therefore, after generating a panorama using Photoshop Elements panorama tool, I used Nik ColorEfx Pro4 (once again, to the rescue). I used a little Pro Constrast and a little Color Range Contrast with good results.

Finally, I sharpened via Nik Sharpener Pro 3.0 (which I love). The final composite is the image at the top of this post. It is made from 7 images taken from side to side with the camera in a vertical orientation and a one third overlap between frames.

I welcome comments, criticism and suggestions for future blog topics.

 

I am available at my photo enhancement website (NaturePhotoRehab.com) to assist clients with transforming their common nature photos into uncommon works of art that they are proud to give as gifts or to hang on their own wall for inspiration.

J. Michael Harroun ©2013  NaturePhotoRehab.com

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18 comments on “Christmas Sunset Surprise

  1. elmediat says:

    Beautiful shot & an informative post. 🙂

  2. TBM says:

    Thanks for the tips.

  3. _valeree says:

    Beautiful! I took a picture similar to this… however, it doesn’t look nearly as good as yours does!

  4. I’m pretty sure that your readers are struck by your generosity in sharing your knowledge instead of any grammar issues – not that I’ve ever noticed any of the latter, anyway. Keep posting!

  5. What a striking difference between the single shot and the enhanced image! Beautiful. I bet it would look terrific as a large photo on the wall….. just like being there.

    ps. I like the new writing style!

    • Thank you. Yes, it will be perfect for a generous enlargement.
      (Thus far, my new style is working fine. My grammar and punctuation were previously so bad that no one has noticed any difference)

  6. Patrizia M. says:

    E’ un tramonto fantastico
    Buona serata e buona Epifania
    Ciao, Pat

  7. Heather says:

    Surprise sunsets are the best 🙂 I like how all the clouds in your combined shot seem to converge around the sun.
    I just bought a couple ND filters and am starting to play around with them. Should have tried them out on last night’s sunset, but I’m not used to having them in my “tool kit” yet.

    • Yes, the cloud configuration is unusual and gives the photo more depth.
      I’m glad that you are beginning with neutral density filters. They will greatly increase your repertoire.
      You probably already know this. However, the “secret” for success with ND filters is to confirm their placement with the depth of field preview button depressed whenever the transition is off-center, UNLESS you are shooting with the lens wide open. (Or you can take test shots and adjust placement via LCD playback)

  8. amyleekent says:

    i am alittle obsessed with sunsets, i thoroughly enjoyed your blog!

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