Tips for Photographing Into the Sun at Sunrise or Sunset

Los Angeles Sunrise
Sunrise over Los Angeles from the top of Kenneth Hahn Park

The settings for the shot above, I used a 100-400mm zoom lens at 200mm, 1/3200 second @ f/5.0, ISO 125

Photographing into the sun can be tricky, but if you follow a few tips, you can get spectacular results!

  1. Get there early, before the sun rises or sets, find a spot and setup so you are ready to shoot when the action begins. The sun sets and rises very quickly, you will only have a few minutes to get that iconic shot. There are several apps Sunrise-Sunset, The Photographer’s Ephemeris (available for android and iphone) that can help you find out the exact time at your location.
  2. Shoot in the Raw format to retain the broadest range of colors and tones. You will need to process your Raw files in Photoshop, Photoshop Elements, Lightroom, or other editor. There are plenty of tutorials on the internet you can find to help you get started, if you are new at processing Raw files. An explanation or lesson is too lengthy for this blog post.
  3. Shoot in Aperture Priority, because the light will be changing rapidly. The sharpest part of the lens is usually two or three stops from wide open, I recommend starting there. F/5.0 – f/8 in this range, will also work well. Or, for more drama, try stopping your aperture down (very small opening) to f/22. This will enhance the rays coming off the sun, giving them a starburst look.
  4. If you have a lens that has an image stabilizer built in, only use it if you are hand-holding. If you are using a tripod, turn image stabilization off. There will be a switch on the lens, if it has it. Just remember to turn it back on when you are finished, otherwise your next photo session could have some blurry shots.
  5. Hot Tip! Use exposure compensation to underexpose your shots. Sunrise and sunsets work best underexposed by a stop or two less.
  6. Do not use any sunset/sunrise automatic modes, if your camera has them. They are fully automatic modes designed to assist those with no technical knowledge, but in most cases these modes will not give you the best results.
  7. Tripods are recommended. Although you will be shooting at fast shutter speed, I still recommend a tripod. It forces you to be more deliberate with your composition.
  8. Auto white balance is ok, but if you want to more control of the warm tones, set the white balance to shade. This will increase and enhance the orange hues.
  9. Remove the UV filter if you have one on your lens. I stopped using these filters long ago, and found they offered no benefit, and in fact could make things worse. Light will bounce of the filter and refract all around the inside of the lens, creating bright areas. These filters can also reduce contrast and saturation because the glass often has no coatings.
  10. Meter the scene away from the sun itself, on a medium-bright areas in the frame. never directly into or on the disc of the sun itself. Use Evaluative (Canon/Sony) or Matrix (Nikon) metering modes.
  11. Turn off Auto focus. Manually pre-focus on an object (cloud, mountain or building) in the distance nearest the sun. A tripod is recommended, and this will prevent your auto-focus from hunting, if it has trouble focussing. Because you only have a brief time to get the shot, any delays will cut your shot count down and you may miss the best shot.

Composition Tips

  1. Clouds are your friend. Best sunset/sunrise shots are right after a rainfall, when the clouds are beginning to clear. Although, any clouds can add more drama to your shots. Low lying fog or mist can also add drama.
  2. Find an interesting foreground object, a building, tree, people, anything that adds interest, and creates depth, and include them in your composition.
  3. Avoid centering your horizon line. Set the horizon either closer to the bottom or to the top of the frame, dependent upon what is more interesting, the sky or the foreground. Most likely, it’s the sky, so place the horizon lower. The rule of thirds overlay in your viewfinder can help you compose. But, rules can always be broken, so do what you think works best.
  4. I like using a telephoto lens for sunrise/sunset shots. Any focal length from 100mm – 400mm will work great. At long focal length, the sun will appear oversized, and the foreground and background will become compressed (appear closer together). Conversely, if you prefer to make the sun look small and the scene to appear more vast, use a wide angle lens.

Happy photographing!

BTS Appa the Dog Photoshoot

A behind-the-scenes look at how I photographed and composed the following photograph of our daughters’ wonderful dog, Appa!

07 Photoshop Layers

The studio setup:

  1. Key light – 22″ beauty dish with grid, Einstein 640, mounted to a super boom on a C-stand.
  2. Kicker – Einstein 640, on a back light stand.
  3. The softbox seen on the left side was not used.

01 Appa - Studio Setup

Camer settings:

  1. Canon 5DIII
  2. 1/125 second @ f/18
  3. ISO 100
  4. 24-70 mm f/2.8 L @ 35mm

The Raw file was processed in Photoshop Lightroom CC, and edited in Photoshop CC for the silhouette.

02 Appa-Studio-Shoot

To silhouette, I used the quick selection tool and dragged across Appa to make a rough selection. Since the background was smooth and contrasty, the rough selection was a decent start.

The area that did not work well was her shadow on the floor due to similar tones. Since this area will be covered with a foreground image, I was not concerned about an accurate selection there, so I let it go.

Next, I used the “Refine Edge” mode in Photoshop to fine tune the selection edges, so Appa’s fur along the edges, would look realistic when cut out and placed in a new scene.

Here’s a look at the “Refine Edge” screen:

03 Refine-Edge

You’ll notice, it did a pretty good job with “smart radius” selected. I played with the amount and may have increased it slightly, to what you see above.

Next, I searched my collection of background photos, for something interesting and found this shot taken with my Fuji X100s mirrorless camera:

04 DSCF0270-Trees-sharp

The challenge with adding an image into a different background scene is making it look realistic enough to fool the eye into believing it was photographed that way.

The foreground would look odd with Appa floating in the scene, so to make it look realistic, I softened the background using a lens blur filter in OnOne software’s Perfect Effects 8.

See here:

05 DSCF0270-Edit-Trees-Blur

I don’t recall the specific settings for the lens blur effect, but you will need to experiment and adjust as each image is unique. I wanted enough of the trees be recognizable so there would be no mistake it was a forest, yet have them appear blurry, to help solve the difference in camera angles from Appa and the scene behind her.

To solve the difference in colors of lighting, I created a layer in photoshop on top. I sampled an average green color from the background trees, filled the layer. I created a mask and on the mask, I loaded the silhouette of Appa as a selection, then deleted it to reveal only the green color over Appa.

The color cast was too heavy, so I reduced the opacity of the layer to 25%.

06 Color-Overlay

The photo was taking shape but needed a foreground of grasses, to portray the forest ground. I found this shot in my archives taken at the NJ shore:09 Appa-Grassy Forground

All I needed was the grass, so I added the photo to the layer stack at the top, above the silo of Appa, but just below the green overlay layer. I added a layer mask and used a graduated fill to eliminate the sky and fade the grass into the scene. I used a soft paint brush using white to reveal some of the strands of grass, so they didn’t look cut off abruptly, and used black to paint away some of the grasses over Appa, to make it look more realistic.

I lowered the opacity of the foreground grass slightly, to 70%, to blend into the scene.

Here’s the finished image:

10 Appa-FINISH

 

I ordered an 11 x 14  print on metallic paper from Bay Photo, framed with walnut wood and a simple white mat with clear acrylic on top.

The image on metallic paper is stunning and adds a unique 3-dimensional quality to the composition.

It has been well received, and no one knew it was a composition until I spilled the beans!

It was great fun and I hope this inspires others.

Cheers, Ivan

Reasons for hiring a professional photographer

  1. A pro knows his gear, inside and out.
  2. A pro has invested thousands of hours to master his craft.
  3. A pro understands proper exposure and creative exposure.
  4. A pro knows the rules of composition.
  5. A pro has invested thousands of dollars in the best tools to do the best work.
  6. A pro knows how to use the industry’s best software tools.
  7. A pro uses web hosting and safe backup and storage systems.
  8. A pro knows retouching and color correction.
  9. A pro knows how to use and shape light, both natural and artificial.
  10. A pro knows how to pose subjects to get the most natural look.

Why you pay a pro

 

 

Pictured above are the base tools and their approximate costs that a pro photographer needs. Yes, a pro photographer needs two camera bodies, just in case one fails on the job, there’s a backup.

There are much more accessories not pictured such as tripods, monopods, camera straps, camera bags, flash accessories, light stands, reflectors, telephoto lens extenders, lens filters, portable hard drives, ink-jet photo printers, paper, inks, and dozens of software additions that are needed.

And, there’s additional costs for insurance, transportation expenses, assistants, stylists, props, backdrops, seminars and training expenses.

What you get when you hire a professional photographer is all of the above. It’s a valuable investment in his/her time, energy and expense to get to the level of competency that is required to be competitive and excellent.

Next time you think you can shoot it yourself, re-read this blog post!

Sun Rays – Before/After

When I’m photographing into the sun, I often do so with the intent on silhouetting or purposefully adding lens flare.

When it doesn’t happen, I can add the effects in post processing. By adding sun rays and lens flare, it can add mood to the scene. Here’s the before and after on a shot I took a few years ago while hiking in the Ramapo Reservation Park, in New Jersey.


Here are the abbreviated steps in Photoshop (Substitute CTRL for CMD if you are using a PC):

1) CMD -> Click on the RGB channel to load the luminosity. Create a new alpha channel and fill the loaded selection with white.

2) Boost contrast of the new alpha channel with levels. Use the black eyedropper and click on a dark area. Use the white dropper and click on a bright area.

3) Load the new alpha channel as a selection in a new layer and fill the selection with white.

5) Go to filter menu -> Blur -> Radial Blur -> set amount to 100%. In the preview window, move the center of the radial blur to the relative brightest spot in your photo.

6) Hit CMD-F to Re-apply the filter to soften the blur.

7) In filter effects, add an outer glow with a yellow-to-whte gradient, if you want to enhance it further.

8) To add more contrast and drama, add a new layer above the bottom-most layer. Load the alpha channel, invert the selection, and fill with black. Use the opacity slider to lessen the effect if it’s too dark. Use the Output Sliders (Know as the “Blend-If” sliders) and drag the black and the white sliders in towards the center to add more contrast.

9) Add lens flare – Create a new layer on top and fill it with black. Go to Filter -> Render -> Lens Flare. I chose the 50-300mm zoom and left it at 100 %. Choose Screen from the blending mode.

Your done!

Old Tractor, Before After

After being inspired by the latest Perfect Inspiration video by Brian Matiash, I remembered a shot I took of an old rusting tractor in 1999. I thought I’d go back and re-visit post processing to enhance the shot further.

I loosely followed the steps on epsiode 16, getting lost, but changed a few things to better suit the tractor photo.

I think you’ll agree, it’s a decent improvement. As I do more, I’ll continue to post more before and after shots.

I used Lightroom 4 to make the initial minor adjustments, then OnOne’s Perfect Photo Suite 6.1 to add the gritty feel, vibrance and selective focus. I created several layers with various blending effects to bring out the rusty decay in the photo. By adding the focal-point, selective blur effect to the background, it brought out the tractor, adding dimension.

Below is the before-and-after. Drag the slider left or right to see the comparison.

Much thanks to OnOne software’s Brian Matiash, for his terrific series of videos that inspire and teach at the same time. It’s helped me learn to use their software.

Thanks for visiting!

Canon 7D firmware upgrade

Canon’s EOS 7D firmware v2 upgrade.

The release will be coming in August. Here’s the list of new features:

• Improved maximum burst for RAW images (up to 25)
• In-camera RAW image editing
• In-camera Image Rating
• In-camera JPEG resizing
• Maximum Auto ISO setting (ISO 400-6400)
• Manual audio level adjustment in movie recording
• GPS compatibility
• File name customization
• Time zone settings
• Faster scrolling of magnified images
• Quick control screen during playback

Here’ my take:
Great! Having new functionality added by way of firmware is always welcome.

However, they missed the mark. It would have been easy (i think) to add more Auto Exposure Bracketing stops, extending the current limitation. Nikon’s D4 can shoot up to 9, with 1/3, 1/2 or 1 stop increments.

I want this for HDR photography. Doing so manually is a pain, and can’t be done as quickly as an automated mode.

As for the other features, I find most of them will be useless to me.

• I don’t need in-camera RAW image editing. All my editing is done using Lightroom or Photoshop.
• I don’t need to re-name files in camera.
• Manual audio level adjustment – Nice, if you shoot video and need it, but most people I know that shoot video, use a separate recording device and sync it in post. So, this is nice, but not a necessity.
• Time Zone settings – should have been there in before, so nice to finally have it for travelling.
• GPS compatibity – nice, but not a necessity.
• Faster scrolling of magnified images – was never an issue for me before.
• Quick control screen during playback – I never found not having this to be an issue before.
• Still no voice memo! At 8 frames per second in continuous shooting mode and with it’s fast focus tracking, this is a sports shooters camera. The need to record a voice memo for an important sports play, would’ve been nice. Why they left this out is beyond me.

This is supposed to be a significant upgrade. Canon will certainly sell more GPS units, but for the average user like myself, this upgrade falls short of what I really wanted.

More details on the Canon Rumors website.

Before After

My first post in a series that show some of my photography, before and after processing. This shot was taken last year in October. It was a cold, dreary day, and we decided to drive to Brooklyn and take some shots of the bridges by DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass). This is an iconic place with an amazing, panoramic view of the east side of New York City in between the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges.

The original (before) photo was shot in the camera RAW format. As you can see, there’s no detail in the sky, and the shadow areas are too dark. Although you can’t see the detail in the sky, it’s not lost, but is contained in the 16 bit file. By using Adobe Lightroom 4 to process the photo, I brought out the missing detail in the sky, and brightened the shadow areas of the bridge, this is a perfect example of how much information you can pull out of a RAW file.

Professional Portrait Retouching

I’ve been retouching photos for many years, and always found retouching portraits to be tedious and difficult.

I found that my old habits die hard. I easily fall back on methods that work, but take forever to accomplish.

Photoshop has evolved and keeping up with all the new tools can be daunting, unless you take the time to learn.

I finally decided it was time to improve my skills, and Joined NAPP and Kelby Training.

As a creative director, it’s important to be up-to-date with computer skills, and as a part-time weekend-warrior photographer, I began to feel the pressure to improve quickly.

I purchased Scott Kelby’s Professional Portrait Retouching Techniques book, and was thrilled with how much material there is jam-packed into his book.

I put many of the exercises through their paces, and began practicing.

I was thrilled with how much time I saved, and how great the results are.

The results are subtle, but you’ll see Samantha’s skin is smoother, her eyes are brighter and sharper, I added color to her lips, and highlights to her hair. Removed blemishes and stray hairs, and cleaned-up a rough edge of clothing on her shoulder.

Here’s the results:

Before

After

Let me know what you think!

Cheers, Ivan