One of our favorite photography subjects during our travels are sunsets and sunrises. The different hues and color intensities produced by the sun and the sky have fascinated us no end. Particularly interesting are those scenes that involve bodies of water. Here are some of our shots over the years. We’ve also included some of the principles and techniques that we’ve learned for this type of photography.
Taking sunset shots requires plenty of patience. The previous day at Malalison Island in Antique resulted in a lackluster sunset but the following day we waited for almost an hour and then got presented with this awesome view. It had begun to rain while we were shooting (you can see rain coming down in sheets in the background) so we tried to protect the camera equipment with whatever cover we had while carefully shooting as many frames as we could until it began to pour.
Most of the time (but not always) we use long-exposure shots for sunsets using a tripod, neutral density and graduated neutral density filters. This technique gives the water a soft, silky-smooth look (the same effect it produces on waterfalls) and emphasizes the movement of clouds. This shot was taken at the Twin Rock Beach Resort in Virac, Catanduanes.
We’ve often observed how people would take shots of the sun going down and then leave after the sun is gone from view. Perhaps they don’t realize that even if the sky calms down after the sun sets, it will suddenly brighten up with the most spectacular colors 15 to 20 minutes afterwards. So next time you shoot a sunset wait a while before packing up. It doesn’t happen 100% of the time but a little wait goes a long way. Which is what happened here at Corong-Corong Beach in El Nido (El Nido by the way has some of the most gorgeous sunsets we’ve seen).
Cloudless skies are not often the best for sunsets and sunrises. A layer of clouds usually produces a variety of warm colors while a cloudless sky will result in only one, though very intense, color. The clouds should be a little higher up (not on the horizon that it effectively blocks the setting sun’s rays) and the cloud cover should be at around something like 20-30% for the best results. It’s less than that for this sunset shot at San Juan, Siquijor, but we still got away with a decent photo.
Taking long exposure shots of a body of water during sunset sometimes results in dramatic shots. We tried to take photos of a group of yachts anchored nearby on this stretch of Manila Bay along Roxas Boulevard but they were moving slightly due to the currents and ended up being blurred due to the 30-second plus exposure we were using. We had to switch back to the row of buildings along Roxas Boulevard for this shot. If you’re shooting long exposures make sure that your subject or other prominent elements in the frame are not moving.
When shooting landscapes it is always good practice to include a foreground object/s. In this sunrise scene at a beach in San Fernando, Ticao Island in Masbate we included the rocks in the frame, shooting close to the ground with a wide-angle lens (which we often use for landscape shots). We often use the Rule of Thirds: dividing up the frame into equal sections using 2 imaginary horizontal lines and 2 vertical lines then positioning the important elements in the scene along those lines, or at the points where they meet. (Notice that the horizon is at the upper third of the frame where the top imaginary horizontal line is positioned.) An exception is when there is a perfect reflection on the water in which case we could position the horizon in the center.
Strolling well past the lagoon at Masasa Beach in Tingloy, Batangas, we encountered this pair of rock outcrops on the water that resembled a giant rhino. A perfect subject for a sunset shot, we figured. We’ll often stroll around the beach and imagine how it would look like during sunrise or sunset then come back and set up several minutes ahead of time for shots like this.
This scene at the pier in Ormoc, Leyte wasn’t very attractive during the day with the shoreline looking muddy and with some debris scattered about. But come sunset time the scene changes dramatically. (Ormoc faces west and witnesses sunsets even more stunning than this.) So if you’re faced with a non-attractive looking beach scene or seascape try shooting at sundown.
If we couldn’t find rocks or other objects on the beach for a suitable foreground we usually look for boats. This is a photo of the beach on a fishing village in San Pascual on Burias Island, Masbate.
We find sunrise shots more difficult to shoot than sunsets. That’s because you only have a few minutes to shoot until the sun comes up leaving you with a small margin for error. We also have to get up well before sunrise, fight off that temptation to get back to bed and set-up the camera in the dark. Which Leo did here at the Northern Blossom Flower Farm in Atok, Benguet. The only problem was it got too cloudy that morning and only a few rays of the sun got through to add the barest of colors to the sunrise.
We see a lot of people shooting directly at the sun usually resulting in overexposed shots due to the intense light. Conversely they get underexposed foregrounds in the process. (Ever wonder why some parts of the picture are too dark while some parts are too bright and appear washed out?) The difference between the darkest and lightest tones in an image is called dynamic range and cameras have narrower dynamic ranges than the Mark 1 Human Eyeball, although the gap is closing with today’s cameras. Rather than shoot at the sun directly, however, we often try to capture the effect of the sunlight on other parts of the scene. If possible we also use a graduated neutral density filter to widen the dynamic range and Photoshop to make additional corrections in exposure as needed. This photo of Diquisit Beach in Baler, Aurora is a case in point. The rising sun is located far to the right but we decided to shoot to the left to capture the pink and violet hues of the clouds there.