Monday, February 25, 2013

Where did all the color go?

Quick tip for sunrise/sunset pictures.

Some of the most dramatic scenes that we all love to capture are sunrise and sunset photos. Have you ever been disappointed in how the results differed from what it actually looked like? Especially for point and shoot cameras, the rich hues of oranges and reds can really lose their punch from reality to view screen. Before you toss your camera and figure that it’s time for an upgrade, try this quick tip.

What happens is that your camera meter is taking in a drastic contrast between the dark part of your scene and the bright clouds/sun behind it. The difference in the amount of light on Mt Wilber in this image compared to what is lighting up the lower, darker part of the image is staggering. The bright part of the peak has around 6-8 times the amount of light that the foreground has and your camera sensor can’t handle that large of a difference. Your camera meter wants to pick out the middle ground and it usually produces blah results.  It’s kind of like when you’re driving on a Montana dirt road in the morning and the sun comes up. All of a sudden you can’t see the road anymore! All that dust on the windshield is lighting up with the direct sun and the road is still in the shade. Your eyes are in sensory overload with your pupils trying their best to close down and protect you from the brightness, but your brain is telling you that it is still important to be able to see what is quickly approaching your vehicle. Whatever you do, don’t use the windshield washer fluid to try and clear off the dust! 

What we want to do is to trick your camera into correctly metering the light part of your scene. 

Try these solutions:
 Solution 1) Re-frame and keep only a small amount of the darker, foreground in your picture, allowing your camera to correctly meter only the bright background. Lots of sky and only a sliver of horizon at the bottom. 

Solution 2) Use the AEL (Auto Exposure Lock) feature of your camera if it has one. Most point and shoots have this feature and you activate it by pressing the shutter release button halfway down. Your camera will focus and meter light. Frame your picture like you would for solution one with mostly sky and press the shutter release half way down. Now, don’t let up on that button while you reframe. Go ahead and push the shutter release all the way down after you have your image framed the way you want it. 

Solution 3) White balance is one of the least understood yet critical functions of a digital camera. That being said, almost all modern cameras allow you to control your white balance. The icon for this feature will be “WB” and it allows you to tell your camera what type of light source you have. Usually you can specify Tungsten (a regular old light bulb) fluorescent, sunlight, flash, shade, cloudy and auto. If you let your camera choose, it will set it at daylight for this type of scene, but you may want to try selecting the “shade” setting. It will throw a lot more orange into your sunset. 

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