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Camera phone or digital SLR: How to take the perfect sunset photo

Oliver Gordon, Tuesday February 27, 2018 - 19:06 EDT
ABC image
A pre-cyclone sunset in Broome captured by award-winning Kimberley photographer Pamela Jennings. - ABC

We've all been there — you're sitting outside watching a phenomenal sunset and you decide to whip out your phone to take a shot.

Sometimes it works out perfectly, but often it doesn't do the scene justice.

There is an art to capturing a sunset well on camera, and Pamela Jennings has mastered that art.

Ms Jennings is the 2017 Australian Institute of Professional Photography WA Science, Wildlife and Wild Places Professional Photographer of the Year.

At home in the Kimberley, she is surrounded by some of the most dramatic scenery and weather in the country.

Location, location, location

When shooting a beautiful weather event like a sunset you can take your shot to the next level by picking the right spot — then committing to it, Ms Jennings said.

"Try and be in position well before the sun sets."

Ms Jennings said photographers should use elements like water, clouds and landmarks to reflect light and compose a beautiful image.

"I look at the tides. If the tide is going to be out a long way, are there puddles left for it to reflect in? Or if it's in I can get some nice smooth water effects as well," she said.

"Water gives you reflection and movement," she said.

Know your gear

She said it was important that you know how to use your machine, whether it was a smartphone, a film camera, or a new digital SLR.

When shooting sunsets on her digital camera, Ms Jennings said she used a lens filter to slightly darken certain parts of the image.

"I've put a neutral density filter on, and that's to help bring down the brightness of the sky so it's a bit closer to the exposure of the ground," she said.

"I've got a histogram on there so I can look at what is happening with my exposure and whether I'm over-exposed or under-exposed. And I can see what my ISO is, my f-stop is, what my shutter speed is and a few other things as well".

The blue hour

Ms Jennings said there was a special time just after the sun had set that was great for photographers.

"As we're shooting through sunset and after sunset, there's something that's called the 'blue hour' and that's when the sun has actually gone below the horizon, but the colours intensify the reds and the blues in the sky," she said.

The phenomenon suited the name in other parts of the country, but Ms Jennings said it was different in northern Australia.

"It's supposed to be blue hour, but in the tropics it's like blue fifteen minutes," she said.

Persistence pays

Weather photography was a mixture of patience, luck, creativity and technique.

Ms Jennings' advice to people hoping to improve their sunset photography skills was to go out and practice.

"You never really know what's going to happen with the sky. The other night I took a beautiful shot just before Cyclone Joyce. There was a big cloud band and I wasn't quite sure if it was going to produce any colour.

"But it did and it was fantastic. It went from pink to gold to red and was amazing," she said.

"Go out a lot, and be prepared. Sometimes you get some really nice shots and other times it's a bit like meh, but at least you know you're out there trying."


© ABC 2018

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