The Sunset Experiment

Choosing a composition and sticking with it throughout a sunset - or any landscape - opens up some interesting possibilities for crafting a unique image. It's a rare treat when my schedule allows me to shoot a sunset. Maybe once a month. So when I get a sunset chance, I shoot a lot of frames - especially when the sky is gorgeous. On this occasion, my tripod were firmly planted in the same spot for at least 30 minutes. As the conditions changed, I used a cable release to take sequences of exposures.

Over the last two weeks I've been experimenting with the shots from that outing. With each photo, I focused less on producing an end photo and more on "generating ideas" - to borrow a phrase from Trey Ratcliff. I processed each set of exposures in a different way. And usually on a different day, which adds in new factors such as my mood, what time of the day I was working on the photos, what music I was listening to ... all things that, consciously or subconsciously, manifest in the photo.

A few words about the images you see above:

  • 17:25: An HDR of 9 bracketed shots. I specifically took this shot when the sun momentarily peeked through the cloud cover, casting wonderful golden tones on the rocks. I focused on the rocks when processing this photo.
  • 17:36: An HDR of 9 bracketed shots. The sun firmly nestled behind the growing marine layer, the clouds ever-changing, the scene felt softer. The rocks in the foreground are toned down, the sky softer, it wanted a calmer feel.
  • 17:43: An HDR of 9 bracketed shots. The clouds further dissipated and on scene it was already getting notably darker. I chose to move in the direction of a "twilight" feel, adding a light purple cast to the sky. The foreground rocks are amped up just a touch.
  • Blend: Purely in the "generate ideas" mode. Looking at the first three images I'd created, I really liked the golden rocks from 17:25 and the twilight sky of 17:43. Using 17:43 as the base, I masked in a hint of the golden rocks. Pushing too far made my brain reject the photo as artificial ... so just a hint of gold.
  • 17:44: A single exposure. How quickly the skies change ... I kept with the "twilight" processing. With a single exposure, only so much shadow recovery could be done, so the rocks are very dark. I focused on the sky.
  • Multi-Blend: A merge of the sky from 17:44 and the foreground rocks from "Blend". In my opinion, HDR processing can push a sky too far sometimes. Here, I reigned in the sky while keeping that extra texture in the rocks.

So what's my favorite? I like 17:25 for the overall punch it has, how it grabs my attention, and those sweet golden rocks. I also like the Multi-Blend, the calmer feel of the soft sky with just a hint of that fading golden light. Although, in the Multi-Blend, I feel I want to bring back in some of the rolling surf for just a bit more mid-ground interest.

So maybe I'm not done "generating ideas" just yet.