Capturing sunrise clouds

As a committed early-riser, I get to experience and photograph a lot of sunrises. The more you do something like this, the more you come to understand how the light changes at this time of day and how you might be able to put yourself in the right place to take advantage of it. One approach I've adopted when there are clouds on the horizon is to reach for my telephoto zoom lens just as the sun begins to make an appearance. The lighting effects around a rising sun are often spectacular but they can be restricted to a small area of sky so a medium telephoto is often needed to zero-in on the action. I think it is usually best to compose these sorts of images with some form of foreground interest to provide context, like waves or shimmering water in the case of seascapes, although more abstract compositions can also be effective. I'm always mindful of the comments of a well-known landscape photographer who complained that he was tired of seeing so many sunrise/sunset images that rely on heavily saturated colours for impact and not much else. The message I take from this is that composition is as important in these sorts of images as in any other, and that bright colours alone won't carry an image. So as with any landscape image, look for patterns, shapes and variations in colour in the clouds and compose carefully.

Two big drawbacks to shooting towards the rising sun are the extreme dynamic range you will have to deal with and the potential for lens-flare caused by sunlight striking the front of your lens. I deal with the first issue by employing manual HDR techniques, starting with the capture of a series of bracketed exposures and then using layers and masks in Photoshop to blend these exposures together to produce a final result with no (or few) burnt-out highlights and a well-exposed foreground. Automated HDR processing might do a good job here as well but I've never been able to achieve results I like using this approach - although that could be down to my lack of skill using HDR software.

Some degree of lens-flare is often unavoidable when you point your camera at the sun but it is minimised when the sun is very low in the sky and partially obscured by clouds (as in the images below). A small amount of flare, like 'rays' of light extending from the light source to the foreground, or small polygonal flare-spots, might not detract from the overall scene too much and not need correction. But if you don't like them, they can often be hidden using the clone tool or localised colour adjustments in Photoshop. A bigger problem is when the flare presents as a hazy wash over the whole image - in my experience this is more common when the sun is a little higher in the sky or is unobstructed by clouds or haze on the horizon. These images usually go straight to my recycle-bin. One trick to get around this problem goes like this: 1. shoot a series of bracketed exposures as you would normally do for HDR processing; 2. without moving the tripod, shoot a second series of bracketed exposures while holding your hand or a piece of card over the sky to limit the amount of direct sunlight hitting your lens; 3. blend together the sky from the first set of exposures with the foreground from the second set of exposures (which should be free of flare) for the final flare-free result. 

Shooting clouds at sunrise is technically challenging but with a little practice, forethought and some processing skills, it can produce some interesting results.

200mm, f8, 1/160sec, ISO100

180mm, f11, 1/25sec, ISO100

135mm, f8, 1/1600sec, ISO400

200mm, f8, 1/2sec, ISO100

Country hills

Early in November I took a drive out to a spot near Kilcoy I've had in mind to photograph for some time. Most of my images focus on relatively natural and unmodified landscapes but the rolling shapes and soft tones of this cleared grazing land have always struck me as being quite photogenic. Of course, being private property, it would be more than impolite to just wander about without permission of the owner so I was restricted to shooting from behind the fence beside a main road. But this provided enough options to capture the images below and I suspect that a friendly chat with the landowner (if I could work out who that is) might open up access to other parts of the property.

I spent most of my time shooting with a 70-200mm zoom lens to bring the distant hills a little closer and to allow me to pick out small parts of the whole scene to highight the undulating terrain. There are quite a few isolated trees scattered about the countryside that would make interesting subjects against the otherwise naked hills but the compositional options from the roadside were limited. Given time (and permission) to wander about the property, I think there would be some interesting and creative compositions to be discovered.

40mm, f8, 10sec, ISO100

200mm, f8, 4sec, ISO100 

140mm, f8, 1sec, ISO100

 Other new images for November

Yaroomba Beach, Point Arkwright. 17mm, f11, 30sec, ISO100

Yaroomba Beach. 17mm, f11, 12.5sec, ISO100

Yaroomba Beach. 40mm, f8, 1/8sec, ISO100

Point Cartwright. 17mm, f11, 5sec, ISO100

Point Cartwright. 17mm, f8, 1/5sec, ISO100

Coolum Beach. 30mm, f11, 3.2sec, ISO100

Mudjimba Beach. 40mm, f11, 1/2sec, ISO100

Mudjimba Beach. 17mm, f11, 1/2sec, ISO100

Pincushion Island. 17mm, f11, 1sec, ISO100

Pincushion Island. 70mm, f8, 1/160sec, ISO100

Pincushion Island. 145mm, f8, 1/8sec, ISO100

Shelly Beach. 200mm, f8, 1/60sec, ISO400

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