Sunset Photo Safari Tour Notes2018-06-13T01:03:10-08:00

Sunset Photo Safari Tour Notes

These reference notes are for guests who have been on a Sunset Photo Safari and wish to review settings for certain subjects. Since the route varies according to time of season and conditions, not every item on this list will be relevant to every guest. Contact us if you have questions!

Mountain Streams [long exposure]

A slow shutter speed is necessary to give running water a silky effect. This type of photography is best done in low light, or the camera may not be able to reach the desired shutter speed without overexposure. Otherwise, if conditions are too bright, a neutral density [ND] filter can be used, which will block out extra light. Other subjects suitable for slow shutter photography include car light trails, ocean waves, fast moving clouds, and public places (to make people completely disappear from a scene or render them as blurred, moving shapes).


McHugh Creek [13 sec, f/11, ISO 100, 24mm]


  1. Use a wide angle lens (under 24mm).
  2. Set the camera to Aperture Priority (A or AV).
  3. Set ISO at the lowest setting on your camera.
  4. Close the aperture to f/20 (or the second to highest number).
  5. Set the timer or use a remote or cable release if you have one.
  6. Securely mount your camera on tripod.
  7. Turn off  the image stabilizer on your lens if you have it.
  8. Turn on live view if you have it.
  9. Compose the scene so there is a pleasing balance between the running water and stationary objects (rocks, trees).
  10. Set the focus point on the lower 1/3 of the scene.
  11. If scene is too dark or too light, use the EV  [+/-] setting to override the camera’s shutter speed.


One of the most important things to remember with wildlife photography is to make sure the shutter speed is fast enough to avoid motion blur. Normally, shutter speed should be equal to or greater than the focal length for a handheld shot – so, if you are shooting at 200mm, you need a shutter speed at least 1/200 second. But for a live subject, the shutter speed would ideally be double the focal length.


Moose at Glen Alps [1/640 sec, f/2.8, ISO 800, 189mm]


  1. Put the camera in Shutter Priority (S or TV).
  2. Set ISO to Auto.
  3. Set drive mode to continuous (usually found in the same setting as timer).
  4. Set focus mode to AF-C or AI-Servo, depending on your camera (this will help track a moving subject).
  5. Compose the shot and note the focal length.
  6. Set the shutter speed to double the focal length (i.e. 200mm = 1/400 sec shutter speed).
  7. Place the focus point on the animal’s eye.
  8. Don’t worry too much about composition. Strive to get a sharp image of the animal in a dynamic pose. You can crop the image in post processing to improve composition.
  9. Be patient.
  10. Study the animals closely and try to anticipate when it will move into an ideal location or pose.


Beautiful as they may be, wildflowers often are lost in an image if everything else in the scene is rendered in focus. Limiting depth-of-field is the technique most commonly used to make the subject stand out.


Fireweed Blossom [100 sec, f/5, ISO 400, 100mm]


  1. Depending on the amount of available light, you may choose to handhold the camera or use a tripod.
  2. Open the aperture to the widest setting (lowest number).
  3. Zoom on the subject or use a macro lens.
  4. Get as physically close to the subject as possible (within the range of focus for your lens).
  5. Avoid shooting down on the flower. Position yourself to shoot across, or even upwards to the subject.
  6. Make sure the focus point is on the most important part of the subject. If autofocus is not working, it could be because your are too close for your camera’s focus range (back off or zoom out a little), or autofocus is locking on a foreground subject, such as a blade of grass (move the focus).


Sunsets are high contrast scenes. The camera will be able to expose for either the brightest or darkest part of the scene, but not both at the same time. There are several ways to work around this to achieve your goal.


Sunset at Glen Alps [1/500 sec, f/4.5, ISO 800, 135mm]


  1. Choose whatever focal length and aperture setting you like, but use a depth-of-field calculator app to make sure you have an adequate range of focus for the scene.
  2. Be mindful of the shutter speed. If it falls below focal length, mount the camera on a tripod.
  3. Use the EV setting [+/-] to brighten or darken the image as needed.
  4. When composing the scene, try to place the horizon line in the upper or lower third of the frame, not on the center plane. High or low horizon lines are more dynamic and interesting. Keep in mind that the less sky shown in the scene, the more the camera attempt to lighten the foreground, which will render the sky too bright and without color and detail. You can compensate for this by taking 3 exposures of the same scene: one overexposed by 1-2 stops, one underexposed by 1-2 stops, and one correctly exposed according to the camera meter. These photos can then be merged in a for high dynamic range in post processing, meaning there is detail in both the brightest and darkest areas of the photo.


When shooting into the sun, the camera will automatically speed up the shutter and/or close the aperture (depending on the shooting mode). This will help detail and color show up in a bright sky, but will underexpose the foreground. You can use this to your advantage to photograph silhouettes.


Sunset Silhouette [1/50 sec, f/16, ISO 200, 17mm]


  1. Choose whatever focal length and aperture setting you like, but use a depth-of-field calculator app to make sure you have an adequate range of focus for the scene.
  2. Watch the shutter speed. If it falls below focal length, increase the ISO and/or open the aperture wider.
  3. Use the EV setting [+/-] to brighten or darken the image as needed.
  4. Choose a foreground subject for the silhouette.
  5. Trees, rocks, fenceposts, buildings and people are a few great silhouette subjects. Be creative!
  6. Get low and shoot upward, with your subject extending into the sky.
  7. When photographing a person, have them pose in dynamic ways, such as arms extended, jumping, or sitting with knees folded into chest. Since they will be rendered a silhouette, it looks more natural to having them gazing or moving into the scene, rather than toward the camera.


Starburst can be tricky. The aperture size, design of your lens, focal length, and quality of light will all play a part in the size and sharpness of the starburst you are able to achieve. Take safety precautions when attempting them! Avoid looking directly at the sun, and angle the camera lens slightly so the sun is not falling directly on the sensor.


Starburst Fun [1/20 sec, f/18, ISO 200, 20mm]


  1. Use a short focal length (24mm or less).
  2. Put the camera in aperture priority (A or AV).
  3. Set aperture to f/16 or higher.
  4. Compose the scene so the sun is partially blocked by a foreground object, such as a tree, rock or fencepost.
  5. Shift your position to the right and left, or up and down until you get the maximum starburst effect.
  6. Watch out for unwanted lens flare.
  7. Lens flare may be reduced by angling the lens away from the sun, or blocking light with your hand. You might also consider leaving it as a creative choice.
  8. Sometimes flare is unavoidable. If this is the case, it may be removed later in post processing.


One of the best times to photograph cityscapes is soon after sunset. City lights are have a warm cast that contrasts beautifully with the blue of twilight. Of course, once the sun has gone down, it’s tripod time. This will make it possible to use lower ISO’s, which produce sharper images and reduced noise. Remember, with lower ISO’s come longer shutter speeds, so if you have any parts of the scene that are moving, such as branches blowing in wind you might want to frame the shot to eliminate them.


Anchorage City Skyline at Twilight [10 sec, f/8, ISO 200, 200 mm]


  1. Aperture sizes of f/8 or f/11 is where most lenses perform at their peak and produce the sharpest images. Use a depth of field calculator app to make sure you are still getting the range of focus you need for the aperture size chosen.
  2. Set ISO in the 200-400 range.
  3. Set the camera on a tripod and turn on live view.
  4. Compose the image. Choose an area of interest and zoom in on it.
  5. Make sure your focus point is on the main subject of the image, such as a building. If autofocus is not working, it could be because there is not enough light and contrast in the part of the scene where the focus point is placed. Move the focus point to an area where there is more contrast. If this doesn’t work, set the camera to manual focus and use the magnifier to zoom in while you set focus.
  6. Twilight scenes are low contrast and usually benefit from post processing. Shooting in RAW file format, will give more ability to adjust the image.

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