Post & Photo by Joe Farace – Follow Joe on Twitter
It is 3 AM and a clanging alarm jolts you into semi-consciousness. It’s pitch black outside; last night’s storm has subsided but it’s still five degrees below zero. Ten inches of fresh snow covers the countryside. No other creatures are stirring, yet you are planning to go out and to make photographs. To be comfortable you’ll need to put on every warm piece of clothing you own (long johns, wool socks, heavy boots, layers of shirts and pants, gloves, perhaps a scarf, and a hat with ear flaps), brush snow from the car, scrape ice off its windshield, and drive fifty miles on unplowed roads. It’s still five below when you arrive at your destination and you may have to hike to a spot you’ve selected, set up a tripod in the dark, mount the camera, and wait…for what?
You will be waiting for the first rays of morning light to illuminate the sky; waiting for the warm glow of dawn to flood across the landscape. What you are waiting for is The Golden Hour—those precious fleeting minutes when the quality of light provides you with images that truly separate photographs from mere snapshots. Doing your planning before the golden hour arrives leaves you free to concentrate on determining the exposure for the scene and properly framing the image.
At the other end of the day, a sunset can happen as quickly as a sunrise, so it’s important to have most of your work done in advance. You should already know what ISO setting and lenses you are planning to use. In order to do this you should have also previously scouted the location and determined the best spot to place your camera. Since I’ll confess to being more of a “shoot and scoot” type of photographer the above sunset image was made while I was on my way to dinner. So another good rule to follow it to be sure to bring a camera with you everywhere you go.
While on a trip to Acapulco, I carried a Leica D-Lux2 with me all the time. The D-Lux2, like the new D-Lux5, lets you capture full resolution images in 16:9 aspect ratio, so this is the full resolution, uncropped image that I made of the beach. Like many similar cameras, this was made in one of the scene modes (Landscape) that the camera offers.
What makes creating sunsets easier in the digital world is Live View. This feature on all point and shoots and most SLRs these days makes it safer to look at the sun within the context of the frame because you’re looking at its image, not directly at the sun itself through the viewfinder. I would be remiss if I did not add a warning label from Scott Bourne himself: “WARNING: Never look directly at the sun through your viewfinder – this can lead to serious eye damage.”
Joe Farace is author of “Studio Lighting Anywhere” that’s available from Amazon and your friendly neighborhood book or camera store.