This is essential for success. Knowing the sun’s position in advance will help you visit the right location at the right time, saving you from wasting opportunities, and there are plenty of apps to help you do this. I regularly use one called The Photographer’s Ephemeris (TPE) – one of the most useful and popular applications for planning shoots. It is available for desktop use and as a smartphone app.
Choose a viewpoint
Having looked at TPE, I knew that the sun would be setting out to sea. However, from my intended viewpoint, I calculated the sun would be hidden behind the headland when it set. With the sun hidden, it wouldn’t cause any exposure issues or flare. And as I would still be shooting in its direction, any colour filling the sky at sunset would enhance my shots. All I had to do was wait and hope for a colourful sunset.
When shooting towards a bright, colourful sunrise or sunset, you will typically encounter a light difference between the bright sky and darker foreground. The level of contrast can be beyond the camera’s dynamic range, making it tricky to correctly expose the scene. You could bracket and blend exposures in Photoshop, but I prefer to use graduated ND filters. Here I used a soft-edged three-stop graduated ND.
A colourful sky alone will not make a great landscape; you still need a strong, well-balanced composition. Scenes with water work well as they reflect the sky’s warmth, so I got close to the water’s edge. I opted for a simple composition, including a large amount of sky and water to make the most of the colour and reflections. The onrushing waves added further interest.
Keep on shooting
The colour doesn’t last long (which is why careful planning and anticipation is key to a successful shoot), so you need to keep shooting. In this instance, the sky’s colour lasted no more than ten minutes, but at sunset, warm oranges and pinks soon gave way to cooler shades of purple and blue, which have their own individual quality and beauty.