13 October 2011

Sun, set the Table for Dinner...Now!!!

After having my arse handed to me trying to photograph the moon the other night (more on that in a later post) the following day I decided to chase the sunsets over Afghanistan.  I didn't find this terribly hard as far as the camera settings were concerned, but really struggled to find composition at first.  We have a distant mountain range that I thought would be a perfect setting, but my Canon EF 50mm prime f/1.4 USM  didn't quite have the reach I wanted and the pics really had to be cropped down to be any good.  So, the following day my tactics changed and I went with my Canon EF-S 18-135 f/3.5-5.6.  In addition to a zoom lens, I added a Tiffen circular polarizer (for what, I'm not sure, but I figured UV rays + filter...what the hell?).  As I discovered, it made next to no difference in my shots of the Blackhawk helicopter.  On both days I shot in Av (Aperture Value) or Aperture Priority Mode and snapped away each time adjusting the aperture from its widest to smallest in hopes that something would come out.  I'm sure this is not the most professional or expedient of methods, but hey, I'm learning, and the best way to learn is to try...and fail.   I will admit though that the best pics turned out somewhere in the middle apertures (f/7-18), depending on the lens, and at what point the sun was at in its setting.

50mm, ISO 250, f/18, 1/80. AWB
36mm, ISO 100, f/7.1, 1/125

Lessons Learned:

  • Polarizers don't seem to do much for this type of scene.
  • Mess with settings (mostly aperture) A LOT to see what works best, including white balance.
  • Look around to find the best composition and find cool silhouettes.
  • Sunsets have a very VERY short window of opportunity(~5 minutes) - be ready and in place.
  • Clouds are a great way to add character to the shot as they allow the light to reflect quite beautifully.


  1. Hey Brent,
    Easiest thing to always remember -
    The higher (more narrow) the f/stop (18, 22) the less light is let in. The lower (wider) the f/stop the more light is let in. @ 1.4 your lens blades are wide open.

    Also, in combination with f/stop the higher your shutter speed the faster the blades open and close allowing less light to enter. Same goes for slower shutter speeds. Longer opening = more light entering.

    So something like lightening you actually want a fairly fast shutter because on a slow shutter the lightening will be gone by the time the image finishes.
    With sunsets too slow and the light will flood the image and wash it out. Too fast and not enough light from the sun will enter.

    It seems like you nailed it with these pics and with the lightening pics but hopefully these tips will save you time so you don't have to snap 300 and only keep 10.

    Best, BL

  2. Ben, thanks for the advice. Good basic info to keep in mind for all my shots. I hope at some point I can snap a shot and have it come out how I intended.