Improve your sunset photography by bracketing exposure. Here we take a number of shots at different exposures and combine them in the computer to create a detailed and realistic image.
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Sunset photography is a challenging genre within landscape photography. I have talked before about how our own eyes and brain work together to let us see a very large dynamic ranges of light. We see details in shadows and very bright highlights at the same time.
Despite cameras having ever increasing dynamic range they still do not compare to the eye/brain combination. The problem is particularly felt in sunset photography where there is high contrast between the sky, where we often shoot straight at the sun, and the ground which gets darker later in the day with long shadows.
We previously got round this using graduated filters. A more modern technique is bracketing photography. Here we take a number of shots at different exposures and combine them in the computer. This creates a RAW file that contains all the details from the darkest shadows to the brightest highlights. This is exactly the same as HDR photography but we are looking to reproduce a natural sunset photography shot that our eyes perceived, rather than that HDR look.
To capture everything that my eyes see I use bracketing photography. To do this in the camera you first need to be in manual mode. You will need a tripod. Set your ISO to 100, aperture to the f8-f16 range and then balance exposure with the shutter speed so you get an image that captures some small detail in the shadows and does not totally over exposure the sky. Use your Histogram to help you expose for the mid tones.
Turn on bracketing. On a Canon camera it is via the Q menu. When doing sunset photography going two stops either side is often the most effective.
Set the camera to fire using the two second timer to avoid any camera shake. The camera needs to be perfectly still for each of the three shots otherwise Lightroom will not be able to combine the images.
Take your shot and the camera will take three exposures. Check each image to make sure you have one that is exposed for the highlights, one for the mid tones and one for shadows.
Combine your sunset photography in Lightroom using the Photo Merge/HDR command. This combines your images into one large RAW file that allows much greater adjustment than a single shot. Process you sunset photography image and aim for something very similar to what your eyes witnessed to avoid your image looking over processed.
Cheating? For me no. I look to create a final image that is as close to what my eyes perceived as possible. the means whether it is with a physical graduated filter, bracketing or a futuristic camera is irrelevant.
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