Saturday, November 19, 2011

P18: sunrise and sunset

Sunsets and sunrises?  Not the most intellectually challenging of subject matter, although as the text suggests a time that generates some of the most dramatic lighting conditions.  My initial thought about this was, "been there done that", however, with a little more thought I realize that sunset/sunrise are simply times that offer a change in ambient lighting conditions, if a little unpredictably.  Whilst I have taken very many sunsets in my time, popular holiday subject, I have never really set up and simply studied the process as the sun drops below the horizon, watching the subtle changes in light.

At the same time that I came up to this project I had been doing a lot of early morning photography, attempting to capture soft ethereal light suspending in mist.  I have been working on this for around 6 weeks and whilst it is opening a new approach for me, I am still wedded to carefully constructed strong imagery with bold colour and contrast.  For this exercise I decided to work with a subject that would support my more "normal" style.  In the North of the city the A9 autobahn comes to an end in a junction with the city ring road.  Adjacent to this intersection is the Marriot hotel to the South and to the North a very newly built modernistic slab of a building, another very controversial addition to Munich's skyline.  Within the city ring road it is not permitted to build tall structures as these might interfere with the classic city skyline of church spires.  This was shot looking South over the entire old city:

The only objects that really compete with the churches are the almost omnipresent construction cranes.  Any high building thus attracts a lot of attention in Munich and generally complaint.  The fact that the Fujitsu building was placed just a few meters North of the demarcation line between inner and outer city added to the debate about modern versus traditional.  Personally I like the juxtaposition of new and old, Munich needs to retain some of its medieval character, but at the same time move a little with the times.

I had not been to this location before, indeed this was as much a scouting mission as a photo opportunity.  I arrived about an hour before sunset, although with the skyline of Munich the set effectively sets sometime before the technical sunset of passing below the horizon.  It was immediately clear that I would have to explore a little to find a vantage point that allowed me to image both the building and the setting sun.  As is the case in most parts of Munich there were a lot of trees close to the building, obscuring any close up view, so I had to move further away than originally intended.  I found my vantage point about 2-300 meters North East of the building on a bridge overlooking the autobahn.  This was not a bad shooting position, but it came with a couple of distinct issues.  Firstly I had my 17mm and 24mm tilt-shift lenses with me, chosen for closer in shooting of the buildings.  Now I was some distance away.  I had planned for this eventuality by packing a 1.4x tele-extender, which works very well with the distinctly no-tele wide angle shift lenses.  This provided reasonable framing, although I would have liked to be closer.  As I was now using an effective focal length of 35mm from a distance, perspective was not a problem and in retrospect a 35mm or 50mm prime would have been a better choice.   The second problem was something i could not alter, the bridge was not 100% stable, large trucks passing underneath created a noticeable vibration.  The meant that my shots would not be perfectly sharp, although careful selection of when to shoot minimized the issue.

Having determined location and foal length the next problem to be solved was framing.  I have framed the shot to include the highway and the buildings to the right of the road, placing the Fujitsu towers to the left of center, hoping that this would yield a composition driven by the diagonals of the road and the tower top. This meant shooting directly into the setting sun and resulted in a clear silhouette of the foreground in the earlier shots.  I have metered for the sky as this was the object of the exercise, but increased the exposure by 1 to 2 stops to capture some foreground detail.  As the shoot progressed  I gradually brought the over-exposure down.  I spent about 75 minutes at the site, starting at 4pm and finishing at 5:15pm.  The sun was due to set at  4:34 with twilight lasting for another 30 or 40 minutes.  Aperture was f/11 or f/16.













I have selected 12 out of the 80 or so images I took from the bridge, selecting each image when a significant change occurred in the lighting.  The exposures ranged from 1/60s at f/11 to begin with to 10s at f/16 by the end.  I decreased the aperture by a stop part way through to better image the light trails in the foreground.  I anticipated that as the shoot progressed the foreground lighting would begin to balance out the background, although some experimentation with the shutter speed was needed to get the best out of the scene.  This meant that the earlier shots have a greater silhouetting of the buildings and although the sky is interesting the photograph is not very satisfying.  I could get around this with either HDR or a lot of processing, but the current process illustrates the sunset better in the sequence.  As the light got lower it changed at an increasing rate, the last 10 minutes of twilight generating the biggest changes in lighting.  A number of times I wanted to pick up and move as the reducing light changed the dynamic of the image.  With hindsight I would have shot a longer focal length and pulled more attention into the tower.

One of the shots is a little poignant, as I was setting up a number of emergency vehicles headed North at speed, later a lone ambulance raced back into the city, its flashing blue lights creating a punctuated blue line across the frame.  I am wondering if one of these photos or something similar could make its way into my Assignment 3 on Transient Light.  It would certainly shake the set up to include such dramatic lighting.  On one hand the brief asks for variety, on the other this might be too much.  Question for my tutor.

 A little I shifted position and shot the following two images.

By this time, around 10 minutes after the last in the sequence, night was more or less full.  The contrast in these shots is a little too much for me, they are way too stark.


  1. Sunset/Sunrise is not a cliche, balancing the lights of a city with the twilight can produce very striking imagery
  2. A great deal of planning is needed for these shots, the peak lighting condition will last for no more than 15 minutes, not enough time to move around very much.

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