Sunset Photo Safari Tour Notes 2017-07-08T22:50:06+00:00

Sunset Photo Safari Tour Notes

These tour notes are a post-tour supplement, but may also be of benefit before embarking on a Sunset Photo Safari. Please consider that the tour route and subjects may vary according to season and conditions, so not every item on this list may pertain to the subjects photographed while on tour.

Mountain Streams [Slow Shutter]

A slow shutter is necessary to give the water a silky effect. This may be achieved in aperture priority mode [for up to 30 second exposures on most cameras]. For exposures over 30 seconds, put the camera in Manual Mode and set the shutter speed to BULB, which will give full manual control of the shutter [in which case a remote shutter release becomes necessary]. Slow shutter photography is best done in low light. If conditions are too bright, a neutral density [ND] filter can be used. They come in varying degrees of strengths. 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].Use a wide angle lens [under 24mm].


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


  1. Set the camera to Aperture Priority [A or AV].
  2. Bring down ISO to the lowest setting on your camera [this makes the sensor the least reactive to light].
  3. Close the aperture to f/20 [or the highest number on your lens], which greatly reduces the amount of light passing through the lens.
  4. Set the timer or use a remote or cable release if you have one [this will prevent camera shake when the shutter is released, so the image will be rendered the sharpest].
  5. Mount the camera on tripod.
  6. Turn off image stabilizer on your lens if you have it. Stabilizers are designed to help get the sharpest images when the camera is hand held, but will often introduce movement in-camera when it’s on a tripod.
  7. Turn on live view if you have it [this makes it easier to compose the scene, as well as locks up the mirror so there is no extra movement in-camera from the mechanism that lifts the mirror when the shutter is released]. If you are using a point-and-shoot or mirrorless camera, ignore this step.
  8. Compose the scene so there is a pleasing balance between the running water and stationary objects [rocks, trees]. Too much of one or the other will confuse the viewer’s eye.
  9. Set the focus point on the lower 1/3 of the scene.
  10. Release the shutter [remember, there will be a timer delay, and based on the above settings, around a 1 to 10 second exposure]. Remove your hands from the camera and tripod once the shutter is released and be sure nothing bumps them while the scene is exposing.
  11. If the scene is too dark or too light [it will most likely be the latter because the camera meter is reading the shadows around rocks and trees, and striving to bring up exposure to add detail in those areas], use the EV  [+/-] setting to override the camera’s shutter speed.
  12. Take your time and try many different perspectives, compositions, and shutter speeds.


One of the most important keys to successful wildlife photography is to get a shutter speed fast enough to capture a moving subject in sharp focus. The general rule is that shutter speed should be equal to or greater than the focal length. So, if you are shooting at 200mm, you need a shutter speed at least 1/200 second. For a living subject, the shutter speed would ideally be double the focal length you are shooting with.


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. Watch the animals movement closely and try to anticipate when it will move into an ideal location pose.


Beautiful as they may be, wildflowers often are lost in an image if everything 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. If the latter, keep in mind that tripods are useless if the flower is blowing in the wind, in which case, a higher ISO becomes necessary, and/or introduced light…to gain a faster shutter speed.
  2. Open the aperture to the widest setting [lowest number].
  3. Zoom the 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 to your too close for your camera’s focus range [back off a little], or, autofocus is locking on a foreground subject, such as a blade of grass.


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. Here are several ways to work around this to achieve your goal.

Sunset Scenics


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 will meter for the foreground and attempt to lighten it, 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.



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. Be mindful of 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 that will be the silhouette.
  5. Trees, rocks, fenceposts, buildings and people are a few great silhouette subjects. Get 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.
  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 the sunset. City lights are warm colored and contrast 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 reduce noise. Remember, with lower ISO’s come longer shutter speeds, so keep this in mind if you have any parts of the scene that are moving, such as branches blowing in wind.


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


  1. Set the camera on a tripod.
  2. Compose the image. Keep in mind that it is not always necessary to show every part of a subject in the frame. Choose an area of interest and zoom in on it. Longer focal lengths will also compress the scene bring background subjects closer to the foreground, making them appear larger.
  3. Aperture sizes of f/8 or f/11 are usually where 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.
  4. Set ISO in the 200-400 range.
  5. Make sure your focus point is on the main subject of the image, such as a building. If autofocus is not working, it is probably 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.
  6. Twilight scenes are low contrast and usually benefit from post processing. Shooting in RAW file format, will give more ability to adjust exposure, contrast, vibrance, white balance, and many more settings in post processing.

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