The sunset that got away

Anglers do it. Hunters do it. Talk a lot about “the one that got away”. Photographers are supposed to be smarter, and filter their stories and pictures so it appears everything is honky dory, and nothing ever got away. But, truth be told, it happens. Best laid plans, and all that.

Test shot for what should have been a sunflower sunset picture

Like last night. I had agreed with my friend Steve to meet up at Richard’s farm to shoot the sunset. Richard has a small patch with sunflowers and open fields towards the setting sun behind them, so it was going to be pretty. While driving there, the skies came alight, clouds lit from below turned the most gorgeous deep yellow tone, with rim-light around each cloud to set it apart from its neighbours. It was the kind of light on which many religious paintings are based, and that makes photographers reach for camera and tripod.

After quick hello’s and how are you’s, we got cameras set up, with a small kiss of flashlight on the front of the flowers, to avoid them turning into black silhouettes. Richard explained about the features of the land, with a creek over which the clouds always seem gather, which gives the most magnificient sunsets. And it was indeed beautiful. After setup, it was just a matter of waiting for the sun to get a little lower in the sky.

And then it happened. The clouds that should be in bands and have holes in them, through which the setting sun could shine, became dense and solid.

So the only picture I’ve got of the pretty sunset is the test shot at the top of the page, taken 20 minutes before the almanac said the sun would set. The “right” moment would have been 10 minutes later, but by then, the only colour was a soft, yellow glow on the horizon. It was the sunset that got away.

Sunflower sunset afterglow

A little later, around 20 minutes after sunset, the clouds broke up a bit and the horizon turned crimson in a way it never seems to do when viewed from the town. Maybe it’s just because there is rarely an unobstructed view to the horizon. The later shots, with shutter times between 1 and 2 seconds were made difficult by the wind gently swaying the sunflowers, resulting in a relatively bright flash-lit sunflower overlayed, but not perfectly, on top of a dark silhouette of the ambient-lit sunflower. On most of the pictures it looked like a badly botched Photoshop cut and paste job.

I've seen the bad moon rising, take 2

When it was too late for the sunflowers, we spent some time shooting roof silhouettes against the moon. Even skies that appear black have some colour in them that can be seen in a 30 second exposure. Steve put his camera in front of mine and light-painted it with the LED light in his phone. The LED light, although it appears white to the naked eye, has a green tint similar to flourescent lights. So normalizing that to make the white appear white again, emphasized the blues and reds in the sky. The white sinus curve is from Steve walking in front of the camera with the LED light aimed towards it. It was one of those accidental coincidences that you don’t plan, but which you afterwards look at and think “that actually looks quite cool”. I wonder if I should send it to the tripod manufacturer for consideration?

Happy accident, or clever product placement

So even though the sunset got away, it was a thoroughly enjoyable evening. Sometimes you don’t get what you aim for. But if you enjoy the process, then it’s still worthwhile.

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2 comments

  1. As always… detailed, patient work here – much more so than I could muster!

  2. I think you should ask Giottos for a free tripod in exchange for that picture… May I recommend the MTL8360B and MH5001 head, as pictured 🙂

    Oh, and the HTC Desire Z for LED light painting

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