The day before I took this I noticed just how red the clouds were as the sun disappeared beyond the horizon. Keeping an eye on the weather over the course of the next day I thought it looked like there was a good chance conditions might be the same so I popped out an hour before sunset to explore some local lakes that I’ve ridden and driven past many times but never walked around.
The major challenge when attempting shots like this (for me at least) is getting the exposure just right. Even though the sun has disappeared below the horizon the sky is still bright enough to completely overpower the rest of the scene. I’m sure the camera could have dealt with this in one of its automatic modes in conjunction with evaluative metering and auto white balance, but from experience I doubt I would have been that happy with the results. The shot would either have contained a properly exposed sky and little else, or more light in the rest of the shot with blown highlights in the sky.
In order to maintain an even level of light in the sky and in the reflection on the water I used my trusty Cokin ND8 (P121) grad *. It’s ideal for shots of this type where there is a nice straight, dark line across the image where the start of the graduation can be placed. Using this filter allows a longer exposure time so that we can pick up more of the light elsewhere in the shot, such as the faint light on the reeds in the foregound. Once the grad is in place it’s always a good idea to double check its positioning with the DOF preview button if you’re using a small aperture as fine adjustments can make all the difference.
Before I put the grad in I’ll usually spot meter what I think is the brightest part of the scene and set it so that it exposes at just below +2EV – I do this manually by adjusting the shutter speed (but if you are using AV you can just used the exposure compensation control to achieve the same results). Once the grad is in place I’ll then adjust the shutter speed to compensate for change in light – so if I’d settled on 1/100s before the grad I’ll change it to 1/25s (even though the ND8 makes a 3 stop difference I won’t usually adjust by 3 stops initially).
Then it’s just a case of taking a test shot and checking the composition and the histogram (and keeping an eye out for blinkies). If there are blown highlights (blinkies) then the shutter speed needs to be faster – if the histogram doesn’t look right (usually not containing data in the right-hand 5th) then the shutter speed needs to be slower.
* It’s worth noting that the Cokin P121 does give a pink/purple colour cast so it’s not really ideal for use during the day, unless you are prepared to attempt to correct the problem either by using Auto White Balance or by fixing it later in post-production. It is however great for shooting towards the sun at this time of day