Shades of a Sunset

August 01, 2013  •  Leave a Comment

I find it interesting how with some sunsets, the colors in the sky can go through so many shades. It seems to happen most on those evenings when the colors go nuclear, like they are generating energy to change their color.


And that’s what happened on this one evening earlier in the year. I was leading a private SoCal Beach Workshop with an eager student. She was getting ready to retire and wanted to learn how to use a DSLR so that as she and her husband traveled she would be able to capture the beauty of the travels better than she could have with a P&S camera. The photos in this article are ones that we took from that SoCal Beach Workshop.


The beach workshops are 4 hours in length and can cover several days depending on the needs and desires of the participants. In this case it was a 2 day workshop. They are both instructive, and also a lot of fun. The first several hours we spent going over the components of capturing a photograph since she was new to shooting with a DSLR. Explaining and demonstrating that a proper exposure was like a simple math calculation. A+B+C= Good Exposure. Or in other words Aperture + Shutter Speed + Film Speed (ISO) = Good Exposure. From there we went over the basic elements of a good composition. The Rule of Thirds, placement of items in a shot, creating a visual point of interest, etc.. With all of this, the student uses their camera and as we go over the theory, we get to put it into practice. This hands on time is very important to let the brain connect with the information.


One of the great aspects of being at a SoCal beach for these workshops is there are just endless opportunities for shots. Whether it’s people photographs with people hanging out around the pier, playing volleyball, etc. we can practice there. If the student is more interested in Landscape photography, then we gravitate more towards the water and the pier learning how to set up a good composition.  As we do this, we continue go over the rudiments of a good exposure. I help them to learn how to adjust the exposure of their shot. We go over the reasoning behind why they would choose to adjust the Aperture or Shutter Speed or ISO. Helping them to learn about the pro’s and con’s of each option. Do they want to maintain crisp waves? Are they looking for some motion in the water? Did they want movement as the surfer rides a nice wave?


There is a lot to learn, and one doesn’t pick it up instantly. But I think it’s important to lay a good foundation as to the “Why” of why a choice is made when adjusting the camera. Then as situations arise, we can intelligently make choices with the settings on our camera. Throughout all of this time I am not using my camera, it’s purely hands on for the student for several hours. But since we are at the beach, our common hope is for a great sunset with waves crashing, perhaps framing the pier or maybe a surfer. As we get towards the last hour of the workshop, I now pull out my camera and set it up on the tripod. I show the student what I am doing with mine, what I am looking for in the composition. As I set up the exposure, we again go over the priority of their settings. I then let them set up their camera, watching and answering any questions they have, making suggestions if needed. Then as the sun starts to set we both shoot away. We stop for a moment to compare their shot to mine. I check their exposure, their composition making sure they are getting good shots. The student can look at my shot to see how mine is coming out.


This time of the sunset is very dynamic and fluid. So typically after a few shots, we discuss what we are seeing, and move to a new location sometimes just 20 or 30 yards away, but one where our composition might be based on how the waves are breaking. Again we set up our camera’s and compare notes as we both shoot and compare. And this back and forth, this practical experience goes on for as long as the sunset goes on. Sometimes this can last 30 minutes or more. At the point we decide to call it a night, we walk back, and we go over what we have learned. The continual reinforcement by asking questions is a real important part of the learning process.


And that is the first day of a workshop. Now many who take the SoCal Beach Workshops are much more experienced with their cameras. They may have had a DSLR for several years now. So while I will still go over some basics and we will talk some theory in the beginning, once I know they have good grasp of their camera then we can move on to other subjects like using ND Filters, or ND Grad Filters, Multiple Exposures, etc.. But I have found that going over the basics for a few minutes to see where a person is at is very valuable. You would be amazed at the number of times where a person has owned their DSLR for years, but have really only ever used it in automatic because they had never fully understood what all the settings were for.


If you have any questions about a SoCal Beach Workshop or are interested in attending one, be sure to check out the Workshop page here in the website, and be sure to send me a note. While I have some set dates for Beach Workshops, most of my workshops are actually just private with one on one interaction. The cost for a private workshop is the same for you as for a group, I know most photographers charge much more for their private workshops, but I am a bit different! So come and learn more about your camera and have fun while doing so.


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