Home How-To Tip Of The Week Secret To Maximizing The Magic Hour Light - 9/22/08
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Sunday, September 21, 2008

Secret To Maximizing The Magic Hour Light - 9/22/08

Using manual white balance for great sunset pictures

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Way back when I first switched from shooting film to digital, I kept wondering why my magic-hour photos (the pictures you take when the sun is setting or rising and creating those beautiful warm oranges and cool pinks and bold blue hues in the sky) weren't as dramatic as they were with film. If you're shooting with a digital camera and you want great magic-hour color, there's a simple secret I learned that makes all the difference in the world.

Back at the beginning of my personal digital era, I shot almost everything with the camera's white balance set to automatic. After all, it was so amazingly accurate in so many lighting conditions, even in mixed lighting the people in my pictures always seemed to turn out pretty good. But when I started shooting sunsets, especially if the dramatic sky was the main focus of the image, I discovered that the vibrant hues I was used to weren't so vibrant any more. And then it hit me: the automatic white balance was trying to compensate for the dramatic colors and turning them more neutral.It isn't always a catastrophe to shoot in dramatically colored light with auto white balance, but it's almost always better to shoot in a manual mode if you want those wild colors to come through. For magic hour light a manual daylight balance is usually the ideal option, but for even more warmth in the shot consider setting the camera to cloudy mode. On a cloudy day, where the light is typically bluish, this setting warms up the shot by removing some of the excess blue. For an already warm sunset, this white balance setting can make it glow.

Even trickier than a sunset sky photo is using that warm sunset light to illuminate a person who's the real subject of your shot. Auto white balance may compensate for the extra orange glow, taking away the warmth of the light you waited until the magic hour to achieve. That's why instead of shooting a sunset (whether a portrait or the sky itself is the subject) with the white balance set to auto, now I shoot with the camera set for a daylight white balance. All those vivid colors are back in my pictures, making the magic hour once again magical.

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