Chasing the sun
Many times, sunsets and sunrises are captured spontaneously by either professional photographers or amateurs. But the way sun appears and fades below the horizon is a stunning performance that nature offers us every day in so many different ways and it's a pity not to plan the perfect shooting of such miracles. We've asked some of our professional contributors who've been chasing the sun over the years to share with us their stories and passion for sunsets and sunrises. Thank you, Zhasminaivanova, Andries Alberts, Darius Strazdas and Martinmates!
Everyone, please enjoy our conversation.
1. Do you love the sun?
Darius Strazdas: If one is eager to shoot landscapes it's impossible not to love sun. In a gloomy day there are less possibilities for photographer then in a sunny day.
Zhasminaivanova: Natural light is the most important element of landscape photography. It creates a sense of depth in the picture. The images are two-dimensional in contrast to the world our eyes see and the light plays an important role in giving a volume to the photo. Тhe natural light comes from the sun, I love the sun and the whole vision and emotion that it gives us.
Andries Alberts: Yes, I love the sun, and here in Africa we have lots of it! Various definitions of photography refer to "drawing with light." The sun, with its seemingly never-ending source of infrared and ultraviolet light (solar energy), is but the single most valuable tool for all photographers. Sunlight stimulates sight and makes things visible, for free. Without the sun, this beautiful place called earth will cease to exist.
Martinmates: I absolutely do!
2. What do you prefer - sunrise or sunset?
Darius Strazdas: I personally prefer sunrises then sunsets, because for me it's too sad whenever the sun goes down and no more warm light is visible. It feels like all is gone and it's too sad for me. I feel differently for sunrises. It's always a thrill. It begins with a mystery of the coming day and ends simply with too much harsh light. However after an early wake up, the day lets to relax and stay calm and maybe wait for the sunset light.
Zhasminaivanova: I will answer without hesitation that I prefer sunrise. At the emotional level, you realize that the day is starting, everything is cleaner, quieter, filled with hope, awakening to the new day. My favorite shooting time is the blue hour, and before sunrise I find it much more intense.
Andries Alberts: I prefer sunsets. One can "plan" a sunset, sunrises are tricky and more focused on scenic landscapes.
As a wildlife photographer, I will search for a herd of animals or find a specific area where I know animals will congregate (like a source of water, or field of food etc.). I would set up and get ready for action at least 2 hours before the actual sunset. As wildlife is unpredictable, one must be agile and quick in observing behavioral changes or patterns. This will come with time ... the more you do it, the easier it will become. With a herd of Giraffe (for example) found on an open field, I will patiently wait for the changes in light as the sun sets. Throughout this waiting period I will take photos to test my settings and make sure everything is up and running before the "golden hour" arrives. I like to shoot into the light, silhouettes are my favorite subject as this captures the colors of light created by the master of art, the sun. One can never go wrong with rich and warm tones painted in the sky. And so, when those precious minutes of golden light arrive, I shoot away, always trying to keep the fading sun itself in my images. When it comes to sunrises, one can not really plan wildlife shots, and luck will have its way (or not). Therefore I feel sunrises are best for scenic landscape shots of mountains and lakes etc. Unpredictable wildlife is not suited to pre-planned scenarios of our mind's eye.
Martinmates: It depends, hard question! :) But, if I MUST choose one, it is going to be sunset. It feels warmer, calmer kind of sexy and secretive. You can get really nice scenery with simple and hide the protagonist well in the dark, one of the easiest and coolest effects when taking photographs I use a lot... Silhouettes in sunset.
3. Are you using filters to capture the perfect exposure? If yes - digital or optical? Tell us more about your equipment.
Darius Strazdas: Taking my shoots I usually have a few filters. It's UV, CPL and of course ND filter. Though I do not use gradiant filters anymore. I better take a few different exposure shoots if needed and work at home with my software instead.
Zhasminaivanova: I like to shoot long exposures and experiment with the sun's rays. With my Nikon D810, I use Nikkor lenses 14-24 f / 2.8 and Nikkor 24-70 f / 2.8 and Nikkor 70-200 f / 4. and Lee filters - graduated ND and ND. It is important not to forget a tripod (mine is Sirui), without it, you can not take shots in periods of low light like sunrise or sunset.
Andries Alberts: I do not really use special or odd filters that no-one has ever heard of. The tried and tested UV filter is all that I use, and ever have. Digital manipulation these days have come a long way in post-processing abilities. I do not prefer to change my images afterwards, but every now and then a magical moment is captured that is not completely perfect. This is where I will use post-processing software to remove a stain, or branch or something that does not "fit" in the moment I intended to capture. I also use a basic Rebel 2Ti camera, nothing fancy, nothing overly expensive. I think it can only go up to 18 Megapixels, or something pretty low key in comparison to what is out there today. I wanted to proof to myself that a simple camera can do wonders in the right setting. For me, high tech filters, cameras and price-of-a-house equipment is not necessary. Just keep at it, learn as much as you can and change things up (settings), experiment and dream all at the same time. I use my camera's internal settings the most of all ... attempting to get the right tone within the first shot (but this hardly ever works - I always end up taking shots with various settings of the same subject). If you are not given any limits, you will believe you can do anything!
Martinmates: I tend to experiment. I want the best quality of my images, so I always try the most important detail in my image to be absolutely sharp. I always shoot in raw, and always post-process my images in PC. My goal is get the same feeling I had at the scenery when watching sunset. I try to adjust settings till I get the image which express the "mood" in the real situation. I never use physical filters.
4. Do you have a favorite season for capturing spectacular skies?
Darius Strazdas: Every season there is a different sky. I love all seasons though I noticed I like fall skies most. I think autumn has most dramatic skies in my living country, Lithuania.
Zhasminaivanova: The most impressive skies are shot in the springtime, when the weather is very dynamic and can add a lot of drama in the sky.
Andries Alberts: In Africa I like winter most. Mostly because we have clear skies and the land is dry (we only get summer rain). This means there is a lot of dust around. Dust, like fog or mist, captures light particles, especially at sunset / sunrise. When I set up for a shoot before sunset, I always hope and pray my subject will move around a lot, so as to kick up dust. Dust/fog/mist particles in the air doubles the effect of light, creating variable tones, contrasts and subsequent contours. Light and shadow, the two factors one can not go without. This being said, I do also really like the fantastic and magnificent summer clouds. With variable tones, this also makes for an impressive shot, provided the sun gets a chance to peek through.
Martinmates: I love diversity and changes. No, I don't have favorite seasons. Better word in connection with favorite would be "a moment" :)
5. Your favorite memory at sunset/sunrise and your best shot.
Darius Strazdas: I remember one early morning, I was taking photos before the sunrise and when I was ready to go home, when I was in a hurry, on my way I turned back and saw the most beautiful scene I ever saw. I shoot quite great photos that morning and was happy with the result and was hurrying to work. But after I turned back I was astonished and amazed. The sun beams as a lasers were crashing mist and shining, all was shining in yellow light and lasers crashing the mist. I took a few shoots, and after a moment all were gone. No more mist and sun covered by clouds. So suddenly no beauty at all. It was a moment shoot, it was That moment. It's actually my best selling pic :)
Zhasminaivanova: My favorite memory is when for the first time I spent the night in a tent, on the rocky coast of the Black Sea near Rezovo in Bulgaria, near the border with Turkey, in the border zone. The sunrise next day was as impressive as the place I was.My best shot is the picture of the lonely tree in a blooming lavender field. The approaching sunrise did not promise anything special and I went to the place without any expectation. But I found this tree, the clouds moved and made the sunrise and the place impressive.
Andries Alberts: My favorite memory was when we as a family returned to the National Park I managed in capacity as conservation warden. A herd of Springbok antelopes were standing next to the dirt road we were travelling on, and sunset was at hand. I grabbed my camera and got out of the vehicle, anticipating the herd would move on as instinct kicked in. They did, and running towards the sunset, I got my favorite shot (Springbok - Wildlife Background of a Golden Dust Sunset, from the wilds of Africa). It was special because I got to share this moment with my family, and because the wildlife worked with me for a change. Every time I stare at this shot, I get lost in the beauty of freedom, and that very special hobby we call photography ... that captured a moment 1/500th of a second long, infinitely.
Martinmates: I really really liked sunset in Mont Saint Michel, France. I think it was the best place for photography in general (I visited) so far. Another place which had absolutely amazing colors was red center in Australia. Sunset lovers should absolutely visit these two places.
6. Do you have a favorite place to shoot from?
Darius Strazdas: I don't have my favorite place to shoot. If I get up early and go out for a shoot I usually follow the sun and the whole atmosphere. If I'm on my way, I usually decide where to go just in that moment by looking to the sun or to the red sky. Yes I have some sweet places to go, but sun is so quick and different every time, I try to guess its mood sometimes. Uh I'd love to live in nature and watch every sunrise in my life :) Or just have so much time that could go out in every early morning. I believe there are no identical sunrises and sunsets. All of them different. I love mornings more because of the mist, fog. I see mist more often in mornings the evenings. I'm happy being alone during those moments of sunrise, no need to talk, just breath, listening and look through my camera.
Zhasminaivanova: Тhe city I live in is on the west shore of the Black Sea. Мaybe that's the reason I love to shoot seascapes most, capturing the moving water and the traces of waves at slow exposure.
The main advantage in capturing the seaside in the minutes before sunrise or after sunset is the overall low illumination of the scene, which requires low-speed shooting and turns the water into mist.
Andries Alberts: I do not really have a favorite place to shoot from, but in general I try to get low down. This allows me to capture more of the skies and light at sunset / sunrise. Into the sun is pretty much always my approach as silhouette photography is my preferred way of capturing sunsets.
7. Any unusual or unexpected moments you've spotted while shooting at sunset/sunrise?
Zhasminaivanova: Perhaps it is due to the fact that the hour and place of sunrise and sunset are not constant and are changing every day. Every good landscape photographer should keep track of the time and location. If you are not prepared for this, you may experience a lot of disappointment, especially if you got up very early in the morning and traveled to the desired location.
Andries Alberts: When it comes to wildlife photography, there is always something happening, most of the time unexpected. One should study your subject as much as possible (while also looking at changing light and mixing up settings etc.). If wildlife become anxious or nervous, they will start to trot around and gather into a tighter group. This generally means danger is at hand and a threat to their survival is close by. Wind can carry the scent of predators a long way, but wildlife have all sorts of tools at their disposal that we as humans only have as underdeveloped senses.Once I was in the presence of a Cheetah stalking antelope while sunset was unfolding. The antelopes became nervous and I knew something was up, yet I could not determine what exactly. I only saw a puff of dust and it was all over ... I never saw the Cheetah until the antelope went barrelling away at high speed, right into thick bush where there was no light. The dust also created a "curtain" of light through which I could not see with my camera. It was a magical moment I will never forget, but I just could not capture it on camera.
Martinmates: Can't think of anything right now. The only think what pops in my mind is how beautiful and how sad can sunsets sometimes be. Strange what feelings this moment can recall in different moments in your life.
8. What kinds of feelings arouses such experience? We know you probably cannot express it in words?
Darius Strazdas: The light drops on different textures and angles of objects, just turn around and look through the third eye or better say - with one eye. Breathing all around with that one eye like a Cyclop creature. All is one and all is beyond you - and that is the moment of now and here, yes - no words, only the view :)
Zhasminaivanova: Despite some inconveniences, meeting the sunrise or sending the sun at sunset are beautiful moments saturated with a very positive emotion. In such moments you enjoy the greatness of nature and realize your dependence on it. You are alone with yourself, listening to your inner voice, charging yourself with energy, your problems seeming to be small and insignificant, recharging and moving forward.
Andries Alberts: It felt like I was caught inside a Pinball machine. My emotions were bouncing between exhilaration, euphoria, trembling, sweating, my heart racing at a million miles a second, anxiety and a whole lot of energy ... a feeling of intense excitement and happiness. I did not capture that very special moment and this caused sadness. But I also did not want to miss out on "seeing" it with my own eyes. There were so many feelings at that moment, but ultimately I concluded that my love of nature was the ultimate winner. We evolved from it, and the need to protect its raw beauty became as evident as the setting sun.
9. What are the golden hours for you?
Darius Strazdas: Golden hours are those whenever you can see gold around :) all nature is beautiful and precious as gold.
Zhasminaivanova: The golden hour for me is the “blue hour”, about 30 minutes before the solar disk appears above the horizon. The first sun rays are reflected in the Earth's atmosphere and have minimal intensity. The more the moment of sunrise approaches, the more rays fall on the stage. Cold night shades are slightly weaker and overall color temperature rises. In the East, where the sun appears, there is a beautiful glow. The light in these moments is very soft, the shadows are absent because there is no direct sunlight and the scene is illuminated only by reflected rays.
Andries Alberts: Every area will have its own unique "golden hour." For me personally it is when I can see the sun itself in my images, or at least try to capture it with the main subject I am trying to photograph. When it comes to wildlife photography, this is no easy task as the subject follows its own mind and do not adhere to my wishes. I would say the last 30 minutes just before sunset is the best. During this time, the sun is close to the horizon (can be in frame) and the sky changes into different colors on a continuous basis.
Martinmates: I prefer the moment right after the sun disappears.
10. What's the difference between sunrise and sunset? What makes each of them special?
Darius Strazdas: For me the difference between sunrises and sunsets are the color, mist, and my own feeling experience. Sunrise usually has different warm colors, more possibility of mist, and promise of the day.
Zhasminaivanova: Sunrises are not always spectacular, they seldom saturate the sky with fiery colors. They can be calm and gentle but bear optimism, the hope of an upcoming day, fill the world with light. They are caught in the hours when the world is quiet, asleep, and they are so delicate, passionate, filled with expectation.
The sunsets are majestic, they make landscapes of gold. They paint the sky and send the day with warm, fiery tones. With sunset comes time for relax, for peace, for home. Sunsets in most cases are more predictable and rarely has something to surprise you.
Andries Alberts: With sunsets one can plan the shoot before it happens (when it comes to wildlife photography). Portrait photography or shooting landscapes are good with both (sunset and sunrise). As explained under point 2, wildlife is tricky. I personally like to have a bit more time when preparing for shots, and so sunsets are my favorite. It feels to me as if sunrise photography is much quicker, be in the right place at the right time.
Martinmates: It also depends where are you are trying to get photographs and what is or who is the main protagonist. Some place is better than other for a morning light and vice-versa. I never got a nice image (I mean really interesting or special in a way) in the morning on a coast. On the other hand... Foggy mornings in woods or old medieval cities can perfectly reinforce "the mood." For me, the sunset has also one advantage... You don't have to wake up early :)
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