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my best sunset shots have all been from driving down the road, seeing how the clouds are lighting up, then driving as fast as I can to a spot on the water where it would look good.

Steps to a great sunset shot:

1. BE THERE. There is no way you can get a great shot without getting there before the sun goes down. You need compositional elements, trees, reflections, boats, etc.

2. TAKE A TRIPOD. If you stick around until after the sun goes down you will have more vibrant colors in the sky, but your exposure will drop quickly. Take a tripod, or at least a monopod so you can have sharp images from the foreground grass and rocks, to the trees and clouds miles away.

3. SHOOT RAW. If your camera can process them quickly, shoot raw. This will let you play around with layers and masks later on to richen up the color and deepen the shadows or bring out detail in the foreground in certain areas easier than manipulating jpg images.

4. TAKE LOTS OF PICTURES. Bracket your exposure, expose for the sky. Your camera's meter will read all that dark foreground usually and blow out the sky and clouds, so use manual mode if you have it available. Review your images quickly as you shoot and adjust exposure as needed to get close to what you want.

5. DON'T BE AFRAID TO EDIT. Once you get back to the computer you will probably need to do some work to get the colors to pop like you want.

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This is as the image was shot, straight conversion of the raw file. Notice the lack of detail overall and the low contrast

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This conversion of the raw file has the sky much brighter, but the water is brighter and has more detail in the foreground near the plants.

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This conversion of the raw file has deeper colors in the sky, more contrast and saturation. I used these two images as my base images and played around with layer masks to get what I wanted in terms of detail in various parts of the photo. I use a light gray brush on the layer mask and paint in areas that I want darker or lighter and since I am using a layer mask it is easy to undo it.

Click for full size

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Here is the blended image using layer masks.

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If I had just applied a curve to one of the images I would have ended up with this, good, but could easily be improved upon.

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I ended up applying a curves adjustment layer to the image, with it's own layer mask, as the last step to deepen up the clouds and add a little more contrast to certain parts of the image and maintain the brightness and detail in other parts. Layer masks are your best friends.

Once I did all of this I resized, sharpened, and uploaded here and on my site.:p

Expand got feedback?

by stowaway See Profile edited by tmpchaos See Profile
last modified: 2005-09-12 20:13:11