I can't wait for November. Most people think about the upcoming holidays with family and good food and that's special to me as well. However, November sunsets are my favorite thing. They burn with an intensity that takes my breath away. A little research shows why sunsets (and sunrises) are so beautiful this time of year.
Sunsets are created by science
Most of our west Kentucky summers are spent with hazy skies because of our high humidity, so gorgeous summer sunsets are a rare thing. The best ones are usually after a thunderstorm has cleared the air. The drier air and higher clouds in late autumn are a perfect recipe for fiery skies. There's also a bit of science involved and here is the short version:
Air molecules scatter sunlight and the human eye is more sensitive to seeing the blue part of the spectrum instead of the violet. That's why we see blue skies. At sunset (and sunrise) the path that the sun's light takes to reach Earth is longer and at an angle. The blue wavelengths deteriorate because of the distance they have to travel and we see more red and orange. It all depends on the path the light takes to reach your eye and how much of the shorter wavelength blue is scattered. With clean, clear air and a few high clouds on the horizon to reflect this light, we get some fantastic sunsets. Dust particles in the atmosphere can contribute to sunsets too, however, those colors will be more muted. You'll see pinks and pale gold as opposed to vibrant reds and oranges, Both have their special charms.
Blink, and you'll miss the sunset
The problem with sunsets is that the show is fleeting. You have such a small window of time when the sun dips below the horizon, but still illuminates the clouds. The colors shift and fade as the curvature of the Earth gets in the way. The sky deepens from a vivid display to muted, as the reflected light fades and night takes over. The sunset changes quickly at this time and even a minute can make a huge difference in the view. It is over before you know it and if you're not ready, you can miss the best parts.
Tips for photographing sunsets
I love to photograph sunsets. There are few challenges and as long as you have a basic knowledge of your camera and some rudimentary composition skills, you can record these moments forever. Here are some tips that professionals use:
There are actually two sunset opportunities. The first one is while the sun is still visible on the horizon, the second one is about fifteen minutes after it sets. You'll see more reflected light in the second event and this is actually my favorite time to shoot. Pay attention to your horizon line and keep it level. You don't want a crooked picture. Also, pay attention to the area of ground in your viewfinder and recompose if power lines, unsightly structures and vehicles are in the way. Sometimes you want the foreground to be part of the shot, but remember to avoid distractions if that isn't your plan. Underexpose the shot just a bit. This will darken the image and saturate your colors. If you don't know how to do this, the simplest way is to focus on a lighter area of the scene and lock in the focus there, then recompose your shot while maintaining the focus. The camera will think the whole scene is that light and adjust accordingly. Remember, the best sunset images have a focal point that isn't in the sky. Silhouettes of people, trees, animals or buildings make for great photographs, most of the time, you'll want those in the lower third of the frame to showcase the sky, but there are exceptions to the rule. Pay attention to reflections too. Water is a fantastic element to include in a sunset image. If you include people or animals, remember to shoot from a low enough angle to get most of the body against the sky. Don't cut your subject in half with the horizon line. Plan on photographing your sunset for between 30 and 40 minutes because the sky changes constantly during that time. There are phone apps and websites that will give you the local sunset times for your exact location. If you are wanting to photograph a specific scene, be in place at least 30 minutes before sunset to get ready and compose your image. Use several different exposures and a number of shots so you'll have choices. Another tip is to be aware of what is going on behind you and to each side. Something as simple as the evening light on the side of the barn might make for a better shot than what is going on in the sky.
Do your research, scout your location and get ready to shoot
Beautiful autumn sunsets in the mid-latitudes are special and whether you are simply enjoying them from the comfort of your garden or chasing the perfect image to photograph, doing a little research on sunset times, weather conditions and camera settings will make for a better experience.
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