Photo masterclass part 4: Dusk to dawn

A sunrise or sunset can transform an ordinary setting or subject into something really magical, but how do you take advantage of this beautiful light? 

Photo masterclass part 4: From dusk to dawn

A sunrise or sunset can transform an ordinary setting or subject into something really magical, but how do you take advantage of this beautiful light? We show you how to capture the gorgeous colours and get the perfect silhouette to make the most of that special moment.

Photographers are alwaysenthusing about the strikingly beautiful light at the beginning and end of the day. Shooting at dusk or dawn has rich rewards, from rich colours to eye-catching silhouettes, and it’s also when many animals are at their most active.
Another advantage of shooting at this time of day is that it’s possible to take great wildlife pictures in the most unlikely places. A garden pond, concrete sea-front or roadside tree may not justify a second glance in daylight, but as the sun is rising or setting they often provide spectacular photo opportunities.
The reason is simple: dusk and dawn photography is more time-dependent than place-dependent. Everywhere has potential if you are there at the right time of day, so there’s always a chance to transform otherwise ordinary pictures into really magical ones.
If you don’t like the idea of being up and about at least an hour before dawn, try shooting at dusk. You’ll get only half as many photographic opportunities as the early risers, but it’s difficult to tell the difference in the final pictures. Either way, it can be hard work.
When the sun is rising or falling, the atmosphere may be soft and calm, but colours often change rapidly and dramatically. A picture taken one minute can look totally different to another taken just a minute or two later, even when the subject hasn’t moved, so you need to work quickly and efficiently.
This month, we’ll be finding out what makes one silhouette better than another and how to take advantage of the magnificent light at these special times of day.
MEET THE EXPERT: Richard Du Toit, South Africa
Award-winning photographer Richard du Toit specialises in African wildlife. He turned professional in 1995 and his work is published worldwide.
Richard du Toit is well known for his dramatic dawn and dusk images of wildlife in southern and eastern Africa. “I’ve spent so much time looking into the sun,” he jokes, “I often wonder why I haven’t gone blind.”
In a typical year, he spends about six months in the field, working from an hour or two before dawn until well after sunset. He takes a short break in the middle of the day, when the sun is at its highest and harshest.
“Many people stop taking pictures when the sun has dropped below the horizon,” he says, “but that’s often the best time. The colour of the sky can be gorgeous when the sun is out of sight, and I love the special half-light as it continues to sink.”
Richard is an opportunistic photographer and doesn’t plan too many images in advance. “I’m continually astounded by nature,” he says. “I would rather be pleasantly surprised by great picture opportunities than frustrated simply because the animals aren’t doing what I had planned. I do try to predict minute-by-minute, of course, and then get into the best possible position. But that’s merely making the most of opportunities at the time.”
Many photographers use computers to boost the natural colours of dawn and dusk, but Richard prefers to keep things natural. “I don’t even put filters on my lenses,” he laughs, “perhaps because I’m a naturalist first and a photographer second. I prefer to record nature exactly as I see it.”
Richard du Toit’s top dusk-till-dawn photography tips
  • Avoid centre-frame
    Imagine drawing two horizontal and two vertical lines across the frame to produce four points where the lines cross. Then try positioning your main subject on one of those points instead of right in the centre of the frame. It makes the picture far more compelling – especially when photographing a silhouette against a sunrise or sunset.
  • Extend the day
    Start shooting before everyone else and continue shooting after they have packed up and gone home. When the sun is just below the horizon, only the light from the glowing sky overhead illuminates the scene, so shooting at this time calls for long exposures (which require a tripod and cable release). But the light can be superb.



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