Thursday, January 20, 2011

Making a sunset photograph work

Last night as I was driving home from St. George on I-15, I looked up at Pine Valley Mountain and couldn't believe how beautiful it was. Unfortunately, I was too late to get into position to shoot a good sunset so I resolved to come back tonight and give it a try. It seems that the situation is seldom as good when you go back and set up your camera. The light was fine but the sky just didn't have the drama that it did last night. No clouds at all but I decided to make the best of it anyway.

The first thing that I had to do was to find an interesting location. There were several requirements. It had to offer a good view of the mountain with interesting shadows showing up at sunset. It also had to have an interesting foreground. Since the sky was somewhat lacking in character, I had to make up for it in foreground. Good scenic photographs must have either a great sky or an interesting foreground. The really great ones have both but a good photographer can make a photo by emphasizing one or the other.

When I found a good spot, I arrived early and experimented by taking photos from different vantage points in order to settle on the one that looked to be the most promising.
Piner Valley Mountain-1.jpgPiner Valley Mountain-2.jpgPiner Valley Mountain-5.jpgPiner Valley Mountain-4.jpgPiner Valley Mountain-6.jpg
After settling on a place that seemed like it would work, I set up my tripod and fine tuned the composition. I like to try to make sure that all of the elements work together to create harmony in the frame. Now all that was left to do was wait out the light and take several exposures as the sun set and the shadows lengthened.

As the sun goes down the light takes on an ever-increasing warmth that really enhances the red rock that we have here in southern Utah. In fact it can almost get to be a little overwhelming at times as seen in this photo.
Piner Valley Mountain-7.jpg
I like to continue shooting even after the sunlight no longer illuminates the foreground. In this particular shoot, my favorite frame was exposed with the sunshine just brushing the mountain in the background.
Piner Valley Mountain-9.jpg
With a little help from Lightroom, I came up with a shot that will probably spend some time on my wall.
Piner Valley Mountain-8.jpg

I'll go into some of the technical requirements of this shoot on tomorrow's post. Meanwhile let me know what you think.


  1. Wow. That photo is absolutely breathtaking. And you're right - the photo 3 from the bottom almost hurts your eyes to look at. Justin's sister Bec was talking about your blog today. She really likes the tid-bits of information you put with each post. I do, too.
    You're amazing

  2. Very nice. I like to hear about technical requirements. That is a gorgeous shot!

  3. Wow. Love the lichen details on the foreground rocks. That just makes the photo for me. Thanks for the explanations, too!

  4. Wow. I like the light on the mountain in the background. And I didn't know the rule about having something interesting either in the sky or the foreground or even both. Good to know. Awesome shot.

  5. It is a good idea to have enough interest and detail in a photograph to make people want to mentally "walk into a shot". The trick is to not include so much that it becomes confusing or distracting. Thanks for your comment.