Capturing the Last of the Light

Here’s a shot from the Florida Keys. At the end of the day, a group of us were shooting on this beautiful shoreline. Others were trying to capture the last glow of the sunrise in the sky – but I wasn’t inspired by the sliver of light behind me. Instead, I found myself captivated by the much more subtle glow on the mangroves.
This is one of my favorite times to shoot. When the light is nearly lost – and night is just about to gain the upper hand. But it’s not always easy to capture the beauty of the moment. It’s brief – gone almost before you have time to set up your camera. So, when I already have my camera out and ready (because I’ve been shooting the sunset) I try to grab the opportunity if I can. I am constantly turning around as the sun sets – checking the sky behind me for color, and checking the ground for that gorgeous, fleeting glow. :)

On this day, I grabbed up my tripod as soon as I saw it, and ran along the shoreline towards the mangroves. When I reached the waters edge – I searched for the composition I wanted. I had scouted the area earlier in the day, so I knew what my options were, and I waded out into the calm water to find my spot.

I needed to set up my tripod in such a way that my shadow wouldn’t be in the image – which is a challenge when the sun is behind you! So, I looked for a spot where I could shoot at a slight angle. My shadow stretched to the left in this shot… carefully placed just outside the frame. I wanted to show the beautiful patterns under the water, so I used a circular polarizer to cut through the surface glare. A graduated neutral density filter was unnecessary, because the sky was getting darker and the foreground was lit just slightly. So, I ended up with pretty even lighting overall. My camera had no trouble capturing the entire range of light with a single exposure.

I needed a long shutter speed in order to get enough light – 20 seconds was enough to get the shot. And it’s a good thing I was ready… because by the time the shutter closed, the light was gone.

So, what can you learn from a shot like this? First, arrive early so you can scout the area in advance. You want to know where you want to shoot when the moment arrives. Second, keep checking over your shoulder. Changing light means changing photographic opportunities! Don’t let that great light get away from you! And third, have your camera ready to go so that when you find your spot you can get your shot. :)

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