Tag Archives: HDR

How to photograph stunning sunsets

It is easy to photograph sunsets, they are already beautiful by nature. But there’s a difference between good photos and stunning images of a sunset.

How to photograph beautiful sunsets: Acapulco, Mexico
The sun setting behind a hill in Acapulco, Mexico

Find a focus point

There’s nothing more boring than just a picture of some nicely colored clouds. I mean, come on, anyone can take photos like that.

So, let’s take a look around and check if there’s anything between you and the sun that catches your attention. Maybe it’s a person, maybe a plane in the sky, maybe a boat on the water. Look for anything that makes your picture more interesting. And then try to play around with it. Just because something is your focus point, it doesn’t necessarily have to be in the center of your photo – and neither does the sun have to be.

How to photograph beautiful sunsets: Maayafushi, Maledives
A water plane taking off in Maayafushi, Maledives

Create a silhouette

With the sun behind your object, you will see strong backlighting, which means that the object will appear rather dark and just as a silhouette.

How to photograph beautiful sunsets: Acapulco, Mexico
Acapulco, Mexico

In this case, that’s the desired effect. Now you have to make sure that your camera won’t ruin this moment. When you are in auto mode, there is a possibility that your camera will try to increase the brightness so your object in front becomes visible. There are a few tricks how to prevent that:

  • Most cameras nowadays have a special settig for sunsets. Active it and you are fine.
  • Manually adjust the exposure of the image. If you don’t know how to do this, keep reading.
  • If you are in auto mode, aim directly on the sun, press down the shutter button until the camera focuses, then move back to the object and press down the shutter button completely.
  • If your object isn’t too close, just switch on the flash. Thereby, you will make your camera believe that the flash will do the work of lighting up the scene and won’t automatically change other settings.
How to photograph beautiful sunsets: Acapulco, Mexico
Acapulco, Mexico

 Take another look around

It’s easy to get lost on the beauty of this huge fire ball right in front of you. But sometimes it’s best to turn your back on the sun. The setting sun will throw a beatiful light on everything around you. Maybe the best motive isn’t in front of you, it’s behind you.

How to photograph beautiful sunsets: Paris, France
The last rays of sunlight crawling over Paris, France

Hurry up!

It’s easy to get lost in the menus of your camera trying to find just the right setting for this image, but there’s nothing more aggravating than looking up from your camera and to realize that the moment has passed.

How to photograph beautiful sunsets: Maayafushi, Maledives
Maayafushi, Maledives

You will see that a sunset actually takes place faster than you might think. More importantly, everything around you changes as well. Maybe clouds disappear in minutes, maybe they suddenly block the sun, maybe your focus point moves away. The perfect moment can be over in split second. So when you can take the perfect shot, but your camera isn’t set up correctly, go for it anyway. I’ve missed too many good shots because I chose to configure my camera before taking it. Don’t do that. In post-editing you still improve your picture immensely, so nothing’s lost if the colors aren’t all right. A “bad” photo is always better than no photo at all.

How to photograph beautiful sunsets: Paris, France
Paris, France

Be ready for more

So far, we’ve just covered the basics. For now, you’re good to go and play around a little bit with your camera. You can check online when the sun sets in your city, so let’s get going.

In another article I’ll explain how you can techniques such as HDR to create even more stunning images of sunsets.

How to photograph beautiful sunsets: Paris, France
Paris, France in an HDR shot

Better ideas?

As always, I’m interested what you think. Let me know how my tips worked out for you or if you have made different experiences.

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Beginnings

A few days ago I posted my article Rocket Science with some pictures of a New Year’s celebration. Now I want to share my beginning of 2014.

This year I celebrated the end of the year in the German city of Karlsruhe, more precisely the “Schlossplatz“. The Palace (“Schloss”) was the first building to be erected in this city in 1715 and the city has since grown around it. So there you have even more beginnings.

New Year's in Karlsruhe

People gathered all around the huge place in front of the palace, celebrating and getting ready to blast their rockets into the sky.

And then … 3 … 2 … 1 … it started.

New Year's in Karlsruhe

The sky was immediatly full of colorful explosion, as was the ground immediately filled with smoke – you could barely see the castle behind the thick wall of smoke.

New Year's in Karlsruhe

The historic decorations of the Karlsruhe Palace such as the statues were an interesting view against the sky, which was illuminated in all kinds of colors.

New Year's in Karlsruhe

The smoke, darkness and sudden flashes of light made it incredibly hard to get my camera to focus. Some really cool pictures ended up pretty out of focus.

As most of the time, I was working without a tripod. I might take better photos with one, but I can’t get around the idea of carrying all this clumsy equipment. One reason why I decided against a DSLR was being able to put my camera into a pocket, so now I wouldn’t wanna carry too much extra equipment.

New Year's in Karlsruhe

In other moments the place around the palace looked more like a battlefield. And sometimes it felt like one, rockets and other fireworks exploding all around you. For the occasional drunk idiot throwing fireworks into crowds seems to be an appropriate way to welcome the new year ;).

New Year's in Karlsruhe

Altogether, it was a really nice New Year’s celebration. If I wouldn’t move away (there is another beginning) I would probably spend next year on top of a hill, the Turmberg. From there, you have a spectacular view of all the city, that would for sure have been interesting.

Coping with Limitations

“The best camera is the one that’s with you” – heard this a million times and it’s not untrue. Anyhow, I quite often wish I would have my “real” camera with me instead of the crappy Samsung Galaxy S (or at least a Nokia 1020 ;))

In this picture here I decided to take a small hike after coming out of a supermarket in France. I went up a hill and immediately regretted I hadn’t taken my NEX shopping. The sun was relatively low, therefore making it incredibly hard to take a shot that didn’t overexpose the sky or underexpose the landscape.

So I gave it a shot with the HDR app, but the result wasn’t quite good enough yet. In the end I decided that the best way to make up for the limitations of the camera in my mobile phone was taking away the colors. This allowed me to play a little more with contrast and brightness without producing completely unrealistic colors.

France in Black&White

I know, you can argue if I also had to put the frame, but what do you think in general – okay for a 3 year old smartphone camera?

An Infinite Ocean of Lights

When you live in a big city or even a mid-sized town, there is one thing you barely see: stars. And I am not talking about moviestars, no, I mean these wonderful lights allover our sky. If you come from the so-called civilized world, it is increasingly hard to find a place where you can look up in the sky at night and see anything. Most of the time the lights of our never-sleeping cities around us prevent us from seeing this beauty above.

Night sky over Maayafushi

The last time I could really see the stars was basically in the middle of the ocean. I was on a tiny island on the Maldives and surrounded only by water. These nights were dark, really dark. Looking into the pitch black water all around you, you suddenly felt very small – and even more so when you looked up. The infinite ocean of lights above you was simply fascinating.

Night sky over Maayafushi

Only equipped with a mini tripod, I tried to take some photos with long exposure. Especially in the sand and heavy wind trying to knock over your camera, this wasn’t too easy. Somehow I managed anyway to produce some decent pictures.

Night sky over Maayafushi

The Awesomeness of Mobile Photography

We all know the saying that the best camera is the one you have with you. In most cases, this means a smartphone camera. However, when you ask many photographers, they will keep telling you that mobile photography is crap. When you look a what’s trending on Instagram, they have a point. On the other hand, what I’ve seen people do with their DSLRs made me lose my faith too. A camera is a tool, in gifted hands it creates art, in less talented hands it creates … output. Just take a look at the Pro Photographer, Cheap Camera Series by DigitalRev TV.

When I look at mobile photography, I am always stunned what you can get out of a tiny sensor and a cheap lens. What makes all the difference is the software. Phone manufacturers are dealing with the physical limitations of their cameras by enhancing them with the right software. I am working with a Samsung Galaxy S, a phone that was produced in early 2010. Technology-wise, this thing is from the stone ages. However, I still manage to produce some presentable shots.

Small River in the Mountains

In this example, I used an HDR app to get some more details and afterwards added an Instagram filter. I know what some people think about vintage filters, but I believe that used properly they can actually improve a picture.

So, what do you think? Could this photo have turned out much better using a professional DSLR?

Aftermath

Lately I’ve been experimenting a lot with image editing on my smartphone. There are so many apps out there for taking photos and editing them, but in my opinion only a few of them are really useful. One of my latest photos is this one:

War Zone

I didn’t take it in or anywhere close to a war zone, neither have I experienced (not counting Left4Dead) a zombie apocalypse – I just edited an average photo to give it a more interesting look.

But how exactly did I edit it? Let me tell you. Continue reading Aftermath

Skylining in Frankfurt

Going from A to B inside an airport can be quite challenging. I’ve already had my fair share of horrible transportation at airports. One of my last trips took me to the Dubai International Airport, where they packed all passengers into a boiling hot bus and then drove for about 30 minutes to our gate. That’s one of these situations when you realize how few time you can actually hold your breath…

Anyway, all of these trips have something in common: You get to see a lot of the airport. One of my favorites is the SkyLine at Frankfurt Airport, an elevated railway system connecting the terminals. What’s so great about this system is that it gives you a great view of the airport and it’s open for everyone, meaning you don’t need to check in to use it.

Lfthansa

On this HDR picture I used Tone Mapping, which while resulting in an overall dirty look, made many details visible such as skidmarks on the ground. You can literally see how thousands of planes and other vehicles have been driving on this concrete floor.