Sunsets are beautiful. If you don’t love them, something is wrong with you and you might as well get off my blog. On second thought, if something is wrong with you, maybe this blog is exactly for you. In any case, I’ll teach you how to take beautiful photos of a sunset today.
1. Find a good location.
Nature is usually better than a city because the sun sets on the horizon and buildings tend to get in the way of your view. I will use an example from my time in Malta to illustrate the search for a perfect spot. Malta is an island and the sun will set in the West. By going to the West coast of the island, I will see the sun setting in the sea, with no buildings or any other obstacles or distractions between the ball of fire and my camera.
So I went to the West coast of Malta and found a peaceful and beautiful spot. I went to the coast south of Il-Majjistral Nature Park, at Għajn Tuffieħa.
You see that I got there with plenty of time until sunset. That’s important. You want to have time to walk around and find a good and comfortable spot where you can sit or lay down with your camera – or set up your tripod if you have more equipment than me. By the way, this is also where I saw the paraglider.
2. Find the sun.
If the sky is clear, that’s easy. The sun is the big shiny round thing in the sky.
You see it? Hard to miss, you have to admit.
3. Take photos of the sun.
You may have learned to never take photos directly into the sun. That is usually true. I always have to cringe when I see people photograph other people against the sun. It won’t work. But today, it’s exception day because in order to photograph a sunset, you have to expose your camera directly to the sun until the very last moment in which it will drop behind the waterline. (Although you can also get beautiful impressions by using the last glows of the sun and their reflection on other objects, like here or here. Or you can use the sunset as a backdrop to something more dramatic, like here, but that is neither the mission of the day, nor can you determine when the waves will be that strong. )
As you see, I was actually moving around between different locations, in violation of my previously given advice (which, in my defence, I had not yet given by the time I was doing this). I personally can do that because I am really fast and because I can move smoothly like a gazelle even in hostile terrain. You probably can’t do that, so you better stick to one location.
Some clouds are not that bad. Even more clouds would have been OK, as they often add a dramatic touch. And notice how I picked a spot from where the rock in the sea is in one line with the mirrored light of the sun. That’s how you recognize a professional.
And then comes the moment when the sun touches the horizon and it looks like it sinks into the Mediterranean Sea.
That’s it. A beautiful end to a warm day in spring.
4. Return home.
Now comes the part which I myself had completely disregarded in my typically exuberant excitement: Once the sun has set, you have a maximum of 30 minutes of natural light left (unless there is moonlight, which in my case wasn’t available). If you live in a city or in fact anywhere close to civilization, you may not know how dark it can get after sunset, but I can tell you: it gets completely dark. I had forgotten to bring a torchlight. So much about the professionalism which I had claimed before.
Those of you have been hiking with me know that I am good in finding “shortcuts”. I wanted to find one that day as well, because I don’t like walking back the same way I had come. Bad idea. I ended up walking through gardens and fields, was chased by dogs and hunters, fell into cacti and in the end I fell into the ruins of an excavated Roman bath. From there, I could finally climb the fence to get onto the road where the bus which I tried to stop almost hit me, again for lack of any light on my part. I came home a few hours later, totally exhausted, but happy. Both the shower and the dinner felt better than usual.
(C) for all photos: Andreas Moser on 18 February 2012