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No Two the Same
Nov 26, 2012
Early last week I had to work later than usual. I happened to catch a glimpse of a particularly beautiful sunset out our westward-facing window and began lamenting the fact that I wasn’t out shooting photographs. A co-worker patted my shoulder and said sardonically, “You know there will be more of those, right?”
In a sense, he was very right. Our South Dakota skies are often painted brilliantly by the rising and setting sun. And yet, he was also very wrong. Of all the sunsets I have chased, I have never seen any two the same. This fact is probably the number one reason I enjoy shooting sunsets. When the conditions are right, it is nearly impossible to find a better view in nature than a northern plains sunset. In fact, when I see higher altitude clouds scattered in the western sky in the early evening, I start to get twitchy and anxious. I begin to run through nearby locations in my mind that might offer a new and interesting silhouette and/or foreground to shoot. I then lose focus on whatever it was I was doing and grab my gear and hit the road. This probably isn’t normal, but it’s the truth.
The really ironic thing is that I chase sunsets more for the joy in the moment than actually “getting” the photograph. The hour around dawn and dusk is a truly magical time of day. Not only is the light lovely, but this is also the time of the day when chances of seeing (or hearing) wildlife are the greatest.
Love them or hate them, there’s nothing that quite compares to hearing choruses of coyotes call and answer from hilltop to hilltop in pre-dawn light. Just a few evenings ago I was shooting a particularly colorful and spectacular sunset southwest of Ft. Pierre along the Bad River Road while being serenaded by a Great Horned Owl. I couldn’t help myself from playfully hooting back a time or two. Later as I was loading my gear, I noticed the owl flutter to the top of a nearby tree. I couldn’t help but hoot at him again. I’m sure it was quite a comical scene to anyone who may have witnessed it. (Luckily there was no one around.) Anyway, the owl stayed perched there another five minutes or more. This was long enough for me to change lenses, set up my tripod and snap a few portraits of him in the dimming light. He even stayed still enough during the long exposures so as not to blur in the photo. Wow, a beautiful sunset and an interesting wildlife image all within 15 minutes of each other? It doesn’t get much better than that.
Here are a couple quick tips on shooting sunsets that I’ve learned over the years. Use a tripod. This will help reduce camera shake due to opening the shutter long enough to let adequate light in. If you don’t have a remote cord, use your timer function when shooting to further eliminate camera movement. Bracket your photos. If you don’t know what that means, I’d recommend looking it up and/or checking your owner’s manual on how your camera does it. Basically it is shooting multiple images of the same scene at different exposure settings. This betters your chance of getting the correct exposure and it also affords you the opportunity to play in the realm of HDR editing if you so choose. The biggest tip is to simply go out and try. Experience is the best teacher. At least it is for me anyway, and who knows, you might get serenaded by a lonely old hoot owl. You won’t know until you try.
Christian Begeman grew up in Isabel and now lives in Sioux Falls. When he's not working at Midcontinent Communications he is often on the road photographing our prettiest spots around the state. Follow Begeman on his blog.