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Capture Gorgeous Autumn Sunsets

We eat what is in season; and the same applies to photography as well. We photograph flowers in spring, blue sky and sea in summer. How about the autumn season? Some may suggest the yellow and falling leaves. Yet the warm weather in Hong Kong may make us wait till Christmas for the leaves to turn yellow. To capture photos with a mood of autumn at this time of the year, sunsets that show rich colors of red and yellow is a nice option. Check out this article on some shooting techniques and compositional tips for sunset photography.

Changing Focal Length to Determine the Size of the Setting Sun

In photography, we frame a shot first before thinking of the camera’s settings. The same applies to sunset photography too. First, we decide what focal length to use to achieve the desired result. By shooting with the tele-end of a telephoto lens, for example a focal length of 300mm or above, we can capture a large, magnificent setting sun with the strong perspective compression effect and ingenious use of foreground elements as a contrast. The photographer of the photo below used a hot air balloon in the foreground to outstand the size of the sun setting down the horizon in the distance, making it look like a scrumptious “egg yolk”.

The next photo shot with a 70-200mm telephoto lens used a similar technique to outstand the sun with a small flying bird. If you are using an ultra high-resolution camera such as EOS 5DS / EOS 5DS R with up to 50.6-megapixel, you can enjoy great freedom in cropping the image to the ideal composition while retaining high levels of detail and clarity, capturing the distant sun beautifully even if you are not using a telephoto lens.

Title: 《Sunrise in Masai Mara》 Club Club Canon Member: Carl
EOS-1D X • EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM • 1/3200s • f/4 • ISO 1600
Title: 《逐日》 Club Club Canon Member: Yoyo Iu
Canon EOS 7D • EF 70-200mm f/4L USM • 1/1250s • f/6.3 • ISO 320
A wide-angle lens can create a sense of space in the photo. When photographing sunset with a wide-angle lens, we should make good use of the foreground landscape and the sky colors. The below photo captured a large piece of mountain and sea of cloud in the foreground, leading the eyes to the gleaming moment when the sun set down the horizon in the background. Also leave room for the sky if it is rich in colors at the time of shooting. It is also important to have an even horizon line in your sunset photo. The built-in dual-axis electronic level of EOS 5DS / EOS 5DS R helps ensure that the horizon line remains straight for landscape photography.
Title: 《合歡夕陽雪景》 Club Club Canon Member: 張晊瑋
EOS 5D Mark II • EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM • 3s • f/16.0 • ISO 100
For camera’s settings, as we are shooting into the sun, we can use ISO 400 or below and a small aperture, and attach a Graduated Neutral Density Filter to maintain a balanced exposure throughout the frame if required. As the subject itself is the light source, using Spot Metering will result in under-exposure in the surrounding environment, while Average Metering will fail to capture the defined round shape of the sun. For easier control of the outcome, Manual mode is recommended.

Adjusting the White Balance for Vivid Sunset Colors

The dusk is also known as the Magic Hour. On days with clear visibility, gorgeous, radiating colors of the sky changing from red to purple and blue can be seen. To accentuate the stunning and vivid orange and red hues of sunset, we can choose “Cloudy” or even “Shade” mode at white balance setting for warmer colors. Besides, we can use Landscape picture style to further enhance the color saturation level.
Title: 《赤之朝日》 Club Club Canon Member: Eddie Kwong
EOS M2 • EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM • 1/1250s • f/2.8 • ISO 125

Using the Foreground Elements to Tell a Story

We can have subjects other than the sun for sunset photography. It can add to the content of the photo if we can make use of the foreground elements to tell a story. Take the below photo as an example. Although the photo did not capture a round-shaped setting sun, the increase in exposure level helped retain more details in different parts of the photo, such as the little boy leaning against the railing, water surface, wooden wall, texture of the ground and the mirror effect on the right, enriching the photo’s content as a result. Imagine if we chose to reveal the round shape of the sun instead, most of the foreground details would be sacrificed, leaving only the silhouette and a less attractive photo result.
Title: 《日落美景》 Club Club Canon Member: Simon Wong
EOS 5D Mark II • EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM • 1/1250s • f/5 • ISO 200
Capturing silhouette in the foreground is also a commonly used technique in sunset photography. This type of photo demands less on detail and is relatively easy in terms of camera’s settings. Photography novices can shoot with Aperture Priority mode. Just remember to use a smaller aperture and decrease the exposure compensation value to accentuate the outline of the sun. Use also Spot Metering on the sun, press the AE lock button and you can concentrate on framing the shot, capturing the most expressive moment of sunset.
EOS 5D Mark II • EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM • 1/400s • f/9 • ISO 200
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