Several years ago while I was in Rio de Janeiro, I was determined to capture a memorable sunset from a spot on the rocks near the famous beach of Ipanema. I have an apartment not far from that area and I had been over that way during the late afternoon, but something always interfered with capturing the moment.
Some times I would be out riding my bike and notice the sun and cloud pattern was setting up nicely, but I would not have my camera with me.
Other times I would plan on walking over to that particular area but the weather was not cooperating. This went on for several years and I never could get it right because I was not committed to getting it done.
However, in September 2010, I decided I was going to finally capture the perfect sunset from one of my favorite places on earth.
Mind you, I did not have a professional setup though. There was no tripod and no professional DSLR camera involved in this endeavor. At the time I was carrying around a cheap Fuji point-and-shoot model. I think it had a max of 8.4 megapixels. Not exactly ideal for capturing the perfect moment.
But I went with what I had at the time. Brazil is not the kind of place you want to be carrying around a $3000 camera anyway.
So one day I noticed the weather was setting up nicely so I rode my bike over to the rocks of Arpaodor and prepared to wait it out.
This particular spot is very popular among tourists and locals alike because of the grand vista over the beach and the mountains in the background. During this time of year, the sun sets in the middle of the mountains setting up the perfect symmetry. If you take a look at the map below, the rocks are located on that little peninsula that juts out a bit in between Ipanema and Copacabana Beach.
The Rocks at Arpoador
First Try Fail
Unfortunately I had arrived a little too early to see it disappear behind the mountains. I could have waited, but it would have probably been another 45 minutes at least so I went with what I had at the time and left.
When I got back home and loaded them on my laptop, I was disappointed. The photos were too bright because the sun was still so high in the sky and most importantly, I did not adjust the settings on my camera.
Not exactly what I was hoping for. However, there are no failures in life, only learning experiences.
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Undeterred, I vowed to try this again. I thought about some of the auto-settings I had used on the camera to take those first photos so the next time I decided I would experiment with various settings.
I ended up going back over to the same spot a few days later, only this time I left my apartment about 45 minutes later. It turned out to be the sweet spot and the afternoon sun on this particular day was glorious.
As the moment approached, I started snapping shots along the way not knowing which would be the best. When you are looking at a small display, you have no idea how it turned out until you see it on a larger screen. But I was determined to get the best shot I could and I knew it was all going to happen fast so I kept recording photos.
You know, the earth spins very fast and if you ever want proof of that, try capturing the perfect sunset as it is about to disappear behind some mountains.
Some of the following shots were taken just seconds apart. On others, I waited a minute or two, but once it started to dive behind the mountains, everything happened really fast.
As I kept taking photos, I knew I must be close as the glow of the sun cam over the mountains. However, I had no idea what I actually had or if any of them would be any good.
I have used this photo over the last few years in various places, even on my Capital One credit card. I know people probably think I swiped it from somewhere on the net. Well, there is your proof. It is all mine.
When I think back to this moment, I realize that it would have been nice to have a better camera with more pixels. However, the final shot turned out great anyway. Maybe one day I will try it again with a better camera. Honestly though, it is going to be hard to top this particular evening and the color of the sky with the calm seas and the surfers silhouetted in the foreground.
I learned several things through experimenting with my camera settings. Here are my tips for taking photos of sunsets with any digital camera:
Don’t Use Auto Settings
If you let your camera decide what shutter length to shoot at you are probably going to be disappointed as I was in this initial round of photos. Put it on manual mode and experiment with different aperture settings and different exposures.
Remove Auto White Balance
When you keep your camera in auto white balance mode you may lose some of the golden tones in a typical sunset. Try experimenting with various settings such as shade to get better tones.
Take a Series of Photos
As the sun sets, you will have the opportunity to take a series of photos at different settings so change things up and keep shooting. You will increase your odds of capturing the best photo.
Draw your Elbows to Your Side
This is a little trick I learned years ago when I was a photographer for my high school yearbook. When taking a photo, draw your arms and elbows into the side of your body because it helps to stabilize your hands. Most people take photos with LCD cameras holding their hands out as far as they can looking into the display, but that can cause blurry photos.
You know what the best camera is to use on any occasion? It's the one you have with you.
So don’t let all of those people with their fancy cameras deter you in the moment. Whip out whatever you have with you at the time, even if it is you camera on your smartphone, and have a go at it. You might just come up with a gem as I did.
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