Predicting and enhancing colors at sunrise or sunset
You can't know for sure if a sunrise or sunset will be as spectacular as you and your camera hope. But by paying attention, you can make a good guess as to what colors to expect when that sun hits the horizon. And if you don't like those colors, you can, to a certain extent, if you want to get artistic, change them.
Know the default colors
Sunrises and sunsets come in many colors, from cool blues to warm reds, with many stops in between. Knowing how to predict and manipulate those colors will help you get the results you want; photos with cool colors will often give a feeling of relaxation, while those with warm colors create a powerful feeling.
Weather can be fickle, and atmospheric conditions can change unexpectedly. But youll almost always find that when it comes to sunrises and sunsets, dry air produces cool colors, while humid air produces warm. Henceforth, because warm air holds humidity better than cold air, youll generally see cooler colors in winter and warmer in summer. (Other factors can throw this off, such as pollutants and atmospheric dust, which will make sunsets look warmer.) And, following the same logic, sunrises tend to be cooler-colored than sunsets.
Also, be aware that the colors of a sun event change very quickly. The blues and yellows seen while the sun hovers 15 minutes over the horizon may morph into reds and oranges as the sun dips lower.
Manipulate the colors
I like to photograph a scene the way it exists in the real world. But if you want to use some photographic knowledge to shift your colors a bit, theres nothing wrong with that after all, photography is an art. That said, you cant really do anything to make colors cooler (cooling filters arent very effective for sunrise/sunset pictures), but you can certainly make them warmer.
One way to do this is by underexposing your film. Many slide films (I use Fuji Provia and Velvia) will render warmer colors when underexposed. Slightly stopping down your exposure can make the colors around the sun shift more toward the red end of the spectrum. Experiment with your favorite slide films to see what effects you can produce. (This doesn't work well in reverse; overexposing will just blow out the scene.)
A way to create the illusion of more warm colors is to use a telephoto lens. Often a cool sunset will still have warmer colors immediately around the sun. If you desire, use a long lens to better isolate the small section of horizon with the warm colors. This will give the illusion that the whole sky was that rich, warm color.
Lastly, you could use filters to slightly alter the colors of a sunrise or sunset. I rarely, rarely do this, but it can be quite effective to use a warming filter to bump up the reds and oranges in a sunrise or sunset photo. An 81a or 81b filter is very sufficient. Anything warmer than that (or anything along the lines of sunset filters) would probably be overkill.
© 2002 - 2008 Chris Nicholson