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Sunset Filters

See also the article on photographing sunsets, as this explains photographing sunsets, and other information in relation to them.

In this article I want to concentrate completely on using sunset creating filters. With these given a setting sun and reasonable cloud formation you can get really good sunsets to order and vary the effect that you get.

While you could just use a coloured filter, perhaps orange or tobacco, this would be difficult to make look natural, and would also put a general colour cast across the image. Rather than this we use graduated colour filters.

In addition to a single colour grad, we can use several colour grads together or a grad or more and a colour streak.

The simplest is an orange grad, this has the effect of making the top of the image a darker orange turning to a lighter colour and then white at the sun. With several grads that slide independently you can mix up the colours perhaps with yellow on the horizon and then turning either orange or red. The effect of the sunlight and cloud does produce a level of variation, so produces a realistic result and being able to slide them up and down you can select the mix that you like,

Adding a colour streak, perhaps yellow or coral either through the sun or above can produce interesting but realistic effects.

In addition you can get some filters that have a number colours combined, usually with a variation in the gradation where it goes from yellow to orange to red. See the Lee filter range to see a range of these as well as strips. 

My preference is for separate rather than combined colours, as I can have more variation and control. My Lee sunset set, has three coloured grads, yellow, orange and red, can be used with other filters including Neutral density grads, in a holder system that allows me to turn them at 3 different angles. I also have a smaller Cokin P system, its smaller and I have less to carry.  In the set I have, at present, a Cokin sunset filter which is a darkish orange grad, a tobacco grad, neutral density grads and solid colour in yellow, orange and red, although the last three are mostly used for teaching black and white photography, there are occasions where they can also be used. I can put my Cokin filters at two different angles.

If also have other filters in your kit, then you may find these can also be used, for example I have a blue grad, in both my Lee and Cokin sets, and this, if used ,with a yellow can cancel out the yellow, beyond a point.

Producing natural effects

Of course, should you chose to, you can produce out of this world results, but most of the time we are using sunset filters we are attempting to duplicate nature but without the wait. You will find that nature produces a very wide range of effects, however this usually tends to be around the concept of being yellowier nearer the sun and deeper orange or red as it goes away from it. You  can also get strong reflections of clouds in water and colour projected onto the surfaces of buildings. This all opens up loads of possibilities, particularly if you have holders that allow you rotate some filters at deferent angles.

Take a look at a large number of sunsets photos, see near the end of the article on  photographing sunsets, to see where. You can see quite a lot. Look at the way the light falls, the sequencing of colours and where the shadows and reflections are. This will help you when out photographing sunsets with filters to move the filters in a way that produces the more natural effects.

Errors people make with sunset filters

The most obvious errors you come across were shots using sunset filters have been used are images with the sun still high in the sky, coloured skies, but reflections in water and puddles where its missing. Unnatural colour sequences, colour showing across something in the foreground that is on the shadow side from the sun.

The most common problem I hear of people having is forgetting to set the white balance properly, and most often leaving it on auto white balance, so that they see a sunset through the viewfinder but the camera cancelled it out. But having read the article on photographing sunsets you won't do that will you. If you do as long as you were using Raw, its not a problem, as colour balance can be changed on Raw images after taking.

What else to read

We have a load of articles on filters and filter holder system, take a look at the list of articles in the Filter Section.

We have a number of articles on white balance and colour management, so take a look at these as well.

See also: Filter Section for more articles.


By: Keith Park Section: Photography Section Key:
Page Ref: sunset_filters Topic: Landscape Photography  Last Updated: 11/2009

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