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Sunrise, Sunset, and Afterglow
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Sunrise, Sunset, and Afterglow

Sunrises and sunsets attract photographers for the simple reason that they produce lots of color and glory for very little technical effort. They also elicit a whole spectrum of emotional responses, from awe to tranquility to romance. Though they are sometimes viewed as a trite travel subject, don't look a radiant gift horse in the mouth.

When we see a dramatic sky, we tend to point the camera up, excluding the ground entirely, but this is to overlook the potential of the event. Including a simple foreground element not only adds a center of interest but can reveal something of your location and help evoke a particular emotion or mood. A sunset over the water on Cape Cod is pretty, but place a lighthouse in the foreground and you tell a story of a particular place captured at a dramatic instant. For romance, add a hand-holding couple strolling the beach. Remember, though, that most foreground subjects are cast into silhouette when photographed against a bright sky, so look for clean and quickly recognizable shapes.

For sunsets and sunrises, a variety of different exposures will provide acceptable results. Be especially careful to keep the sun out of the frame while you take a meter reading: Aim the lens at a bright area of sky just to the left or right of the sun itself; either set this reading manually, or use your exposure lock to hold the setting and then recompose to include the sun if you want it. Bracket exposures (use your bracketing feature, if you have one, or just alter exposure with your exposure-compensation feature) by at least a full stop over and under this setting for a choice of color saturations.

Don't put your camera away immediately after the sun disappears. On partly cloudy days, especially, the sky may be suddenly and briefly illuminated with color several minutes after the sun has set—the afterglow phenomenon. Expose for afterglow by taking a reading from any area of colorful sky.

Next: "Rainbows"

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