Having a “Star” for Better Sunset Photography

In today’s landscape photography photo tip, we will further our investigation into getting better sunset photos. We’ve discussed how to meter the sky to establish our starting exposure, and then we discussed how to tweak the exposure to get more intense colors. Now let’s talk about composition.

sunset landscape photography

“Mayon Volcano” captured by Noel Azupardo (Click image to see more from Azupardo.)

In previous articles, I’ve discussed making something in your photo the “star”. This is a very important concept, so let’s revisit it.

In speaking, if you were to SHOUT EVERYTHING YOU SAID, it wouldn’t be long before people would start to avoid you like the plague. Aside from being loud and irritating, there are no highs or lows in your voice. People can’t tell what is important and what isn’t. It’s the voice fluctuations and intonations that make our speech interesting. It would be exhausting to listen to someone who shouts all the time.

I remember an old television ad campaign with the tagline, “If you want to get someone’s attention, just whisper”. Of course, the line was being whispered by a stunning looking lady–which didn’t hurt–but it was the whisper that attracted attention. At a time when all the ads featured yelling pitchmen, this whisper quickly became a “star” and was immensely successful. Why? It was different and stood out.

Visually, making something the “star” is just as important–if not more so–than verbally.

We’ve meandered around a bit, but let’s bring this back to our sunset photography. You need to make something in your sunset photo the “star”. In our previous discussion of horizons, I said that your horizon shouldn’t be dead center in the frame. It evenly splits the viewer’s attention between the sky and the ground and doesn’t give his or her eye anything to settle on.

Something in that scene made you want to capture that image. What was it? If it was the sky, make the sky take up about two-thirds of the photo. If it was the ground, do the opposite. This is the beginning step of our star making.

sunset photography

“Sunset Key West” captured by Franklin Dilone (Click image to see more from Dilone.)

Once you’ve determined which overall area to accent, find a star in that area to really emphasize it. The fact that it is pretty isn’t enough to create an award winning photo.

Check out the sunset photos of the top pros. Their star is rarely the amazing colors bouncing off the bottoms of the clouds and reflecting in the water. The colors are still there, but they are the backdrop to the star, not the star itself.

Look closely and you will see the silhouette of a person, or some palm trees, or even a seagull flying by. There is virtually always something that the photo is about other than the pretty colors. It may be only a visual whisper, but it’s there, and it is what separates the image from just another sunset photo.

sunset silhouette photography

“Hands” captured by Cyril Pamposa (Click image to see more from Pamposa.)

Today’s landscape photography photo tip is to make something in your sunset photography a star. Spend a bit of time looking at sunset photos that you like and identify the star. Then, practice adding a star to all of your photos!

About the Author:
Dan Eitreim writes forĀ ontargetphototraining.com. He has been a professional photographer in Southern California for over 20 years. His philosophy is that learning photography is easy if you know a few tried and true strategies.

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