Tag Archives: sunset

Fill-flash sunset

 There is nothing magical about fill-flash. You just have to recognise when you are in a situation that needs it. Then it is just a matter of flipping up the built-in flash and proceeding as normal. Provided you have the fill-flash setting enabled, it will come into operation automatically when you raise the pop-up flash and your DSLR will (usually) do the right thing without your needing to worry too much about it.

A situation that calls for fill-flash is one where you want to use natural light but the light is coming from behind the subject, causing the  subject to come out too dark. With fill-flash operating, the background will still be lit by natural light, and the automatic exposure will be set accordingly, but the flash will also fire so that the combination of natural light and flash will result in the subject being properly exposed too.

An example from my recent cruise. Naomi was dressed up for the gala night and we went out onto our cabin’s balcony, which was facing out from the back of the ship, to see the sunset. I realised that by using fill-flash I could capture both Naomi and the sunset, with both correctly exposed. It does not always work perfectly but on this occasion I was very pleased with the result, aside from the fact that the horizon could have been straighter.

naomi

The reason fill-flash sometimes does not work properly has to do with the flash sync shutter speed. Assuming you are using Aperture Priority, as many photographers prefer to, the camera will set the shutter speed to expose the background correctly. But if the background is reasonably bright and the chosen aperture is too wide then the shutter speed needed to expose the background correctly could well be higher than the camera’s shutter sync speed. If the flash were to fire in conjunction with a high shutter speed the shutter would never be fully open and only a part of the subject (a strip) would be illuminated by the flash. Trying to use fill-flash in those circumstances would force the camera to reduce the shutter speed to the sync speed and probably overexpose the entire image.


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Two sunsets

If we’re being pedantic, two photos of the same sunset, taken a couple of minutes apart.

Here’s the first:

The metering system has compensated for the bright disk of the sun by underexposing the rest of the image, so the sea and some of the cloud have come out close to black. The overall effect looks unnaturally dark, dramatic and maybe even a little bit spooky. The dark strand of cloud across the sun like the wing of a giant black bird … at this rate I’ll be imagining the spirit of Sauron rising up from Barad-dûr.

And here’s the second:

Taken from the same spot two minutes later, but with exposure compensation of +2 stops. It now looks much more like a “conventional” sunset, preventing the blacking out of the sea and lightening the areas of cloud, revealing some cute formations that are hidden in the other shot.

Personally I prefer the first picture. It’s a bit different and has more impact, even if technically underexposed.

Most people will have come across a striking sunset at some point in their lives and tried to capture it on camera. It is frankly impossible to capture the image as seen with the naked eye. The camera cannot cover the dynamic range. The best you can do is try to end up with a dramatic picture, whether it is faithful to what you saw on the day or not. Achieving that lesser aim is partly down to technique and partly down to luck. You can put yourself in the right place at the right time of day but it is really down to the weather conditions at the time. Either the setting sun is obscured or not, the cloud formations create interesting effects or not.

Beyond that, you really need a tripod so you can use slower shutter speeds and a longish lens helps to get the sun larger in the frame. Focusing should not be that difficult. The rest is experimenting with exposure and a modest amount of fiddling in post.

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