What I’m about to type in the next few lines might be perceived as a statement by some, and there might be a bit of truth in that. I often say to people who participate in my workshops that ‘you don’t need to point towards the sun to create a lovely sunset/sunrise picture’. Of course, my intention is not just to make the statement but explain the reason behind it as well, so here it goes.
I had heard from some people before that the Moray coast in Scotland has plenty to offer to landscape photographers. Besides the obvious locations, one can find some hidden treasures as well. However, some people who love making images of sunrises or sunsets only, might have a bit of a problem. You see, the entire Moray coastline faces north. At this altitude, to have a clear view of the setting or rising sun, one needs to be there during the summer months only, and this in ‘crazy hours’ as we know them. During the winter months, the sun rises and sets behind the mass of land and this can cause problems.
I visited the Moray coast with my good friend Mike Bell last April for a few days of photography. We visited the well-known locations and we also discovered some treasures. One of the places I had heard of before was Cove Bay. Upon our arrival, the feeling was mutual: this is a stunning location. If like myself you love photographing close-ups of details in the landscape, this is definitely the place for you – more on Cove Bay on a future article, though. However, during our first visit the tide was medium to high and not all the coastline was revealed. We both wanted to visit the location again during low tide. We checked our tables and the next low tide was during sunset. We were slightly sceptical about this, as this is not actually a sunset location, and although we wanted to visit other locations during sunset, the decision was made to go back.
A couple of days passed and we were back at Cove Bay around 90 minutes before sunset. The tide was going out with a peak low around 30 minutes after sunset. We noticed that constantly more and more of the coastline was revealed and plenty more compositions were turning up. We had plenty of time to spare and we were both busy making various close-up images.
Just before sunset, I turned my attention towards the setting sun and made an exposure – I wasn’t entirely happy with it, though, the contrast was far too high for my liking. By looking at the sky I knew that there was going to be a lovely afterglow. The light was fading fast and the shutter speeds were getting longer. I walked a few yards further and I noticed a different picture. I had to set myself and the tripod on top of a rock in order to gain height. I wanted to have some separation between the two foreground rocks, but to no avail. It was impossible to achieve it while keeping the composition I liked and performing rock balancing at the same time. By the time I had everything set and ready to make the exposure, it had only been 12 minutes since I made the previous one – I had to work quickly as the light was fading fast. However, this time there was a beautiful pink afterglow in the sky, just as I had predicted. The shutter speed was slow enough to record the motion of the incoming waves the way I intended it to. This time I was facing north with the sun having set almost 90º to my left, and yet the afterglow had painted the sky with a lovely soft pink pastel colour and there was less contrast bathing the entire scene, just the way I like it. Who said that you need to point towards the sun to capture sunset images? Avoid the high-contrast situations that can cause various exposure problems by facing away from the sun.