Technology changes with time, but the fundamentals and recipes in photography remains. This article was first published in 2006, revised in 2018 and 2020
That round setting sun in the midst of fiery orange clouds sets the mood for a sunset shoot for the evening. This is the ideal case for any sunset lovers, which also made many avid photographers lined up their tripods for that moment in time.
However, most often than not, photographers are greeted with a big patch of glaring light instead of that perfect round orange sun. Some left with disappointment, some continue to shoot what they saw and got terrible results on their LCD screen. So rare that someone captured that round orange sun in the horizon, until someone tried a different angle by shooting a subject against the setting sun and hey presto, what resulted is a stunning silhouette.
Yes, here we are trying to see how best we can capitalize on the situation and turn it in our favour. This also makes you feel good, especially if you have spent lots of money and time going to exotic places in search for that great sunset shot. You would rather return with great silhouette shots in sunset rather than disappointing bright patches of light in the sky. Getting something done is better than getting nothing done.
Things to look out for if you want to shoot silhouettes:
- Distinctive subjects with clear outlines that make good silhouettes
- Any dramatic clouds, those puffy red-orange clouds
- Any stunning colours of the sky
The next thing to talk about is how to get it done.
- In Program(P), Aperture Priority(A), Shutter Priority(S) or Manual mode(M)?
- Fast or slow shutter speed?
- High or low ISO?
These might be the questions that spin in your mind as you prepare yourself for the shot. For a start, by asking yourself whether you are shooting with or without the tripod will help answer your queries.
If you have a tripod and your silhouette subject is stationery, any shutter speed will get the job done. You can use the lowest ISO with a tripod, set your exposure mode to either P,A,S,M mode, and enjoy the shooting session. At A or M mode, you can even consider setting to a slightly smaller aperture like f8 or f11 to get a deeper depth of field with the tripod.
If you do not have a tripod and your silhouette subject is stationery, your main problem would probably be camera shake due to shutter speed slower than 1/(focal length), or slower than 1/15 if you have anti-shake lenses. In this case, you may have to consider using a higher ISO and also with a bigger aperture to get you a faster shutter speed to minimize camera shake.
So far, we are talking about stationery silhouette subjects. In the event of a non-stationery silhouette subject, you may have to set your ISO higher and a bigger aperture to get a shutter speed fast enough, ideally at least 1/125, to freeze the subject and minimize camera shake.
It is important to realize the difference between camera shake and subject shake. The culprit behind the 2 types of shakes is slow shutter speed. This should not be overlooked.
For the beginners, the following may help orientate you a little. If your viewfinder panel shows you:
- 125. f3.5 — It means you have a shutter speed of 1/125 of a second at aperture f3.5
- 15” f5.6 — It means you have a shutter speed of 15 seconds at aperture f5.6
However, is there anything wrong with camera shake or subject shake? Some photographers view camera shake and subject shake as part of the creativity process. True to some extent, but on a visual aspect, I think most of us can differentiate a “creative shake” and a “camera shake” with our knowledge of shutter speed. Let the public opinion decides.
Another thing is the White Balance. For good colour rendition, setting the White Balance to Daylight (Sun icon) will be the ideal choice. This is very critical especially if you want good colour. As for the colour space, you may consider setting it to sRGB instead of AdobeRGB, unless you are ready for massive adjustment of colours in the Photoshop software.
Last but not least, perhaps it is time that we put aside the stereotypical mindset about sunset. Must the sunset always have that orangey sky? From a light blue sky slowly turning orangey, closing to a dark blue twilight before the sun finally sets into the horizon which brings about a blanket black sky. This is the whole process of sunset!
With the above in mind, enjoy your shooting session in the evening, probably even from the window of your house if it overlooks the West direction where the sun sets.Views: 1619