It’s 4:30 on this February afternoon and most of my friends are thinking about leaving work, driving home, or starting to make dinner. I walk over to my upstairs window, looking at the sky to see if there are any high clouds. Should I stop working right now and quickly drive to the beach to enjoy a beautiful sunset? I look at my tide watch to see what the tides are doing – the lower the tide, the better the reflections are for photos at sunset. The best tides are the extreme negative low tides that come in winter as they can create mirror images of the clouds above or any structures – such as piers – nearby.
The sight of some really high, wispy clouds makes me turn off my computer and grab my camera gear. The closest beach for me is the ‘River Jetties’ – right on the border of Huntington Beach and Newport. Street parking on the Newport side is free and plentiful in winter. I love that dogs can run free on a very small strip of County beach that is sandwiched between the areas that prohibit unleashed dogs at Huntington State Beach and Newport Beach. Seeing the exuberant group of playful dogs silhouetted against a pink or orange sky with the dark outline of Catalina Island on the horizon is a great way to end the day!
From about October to March, Southern California residents are blessed with many spectacular sunsets over the ocean. As the winter sun sets behind Catalina Island, the sky lights up the atmosphere and any clouds that hover above.
One secret to capturing the best reflections in shallow water is to get down as low as possible. Sometimes this means getting very sandy or even wet, but it is worth it once you get home and see your photos. Even with today’s ‘image stabilized’ lenses, it is best to use a tripod or monopod to get the sharpest images in low light conditions. Although not as stable as a tripod, I prefer a monopod as it allows me to move around easily to compose shots from different angles and it can quickly be raised or lowered. Once you set up a tripod, it is hard to move around. Wait for each wave to recede to get the mirror images at low tide. And, if it is safe for you and your camera, wade into the shallow water for a different angle, so be prepared with appropriate footwear or go barefoot.
Including a focal point of interest in the foreground such as a tree, bird, dog, surfer, boat, lifeguard tower, pier, or even people can enhance your sunset photos. Don’t be afraid to experiment with your camera settings to get different effects such as using a slow shutter to get a blurry image, use backlight settings, vertical vs. horizontal formats, etc. Investing in an inexpensive ‘remote shutter release cord’ also helps to eliminate the slight movement that occurs when your finger presses the shutter on the camera.
It is easy to make the mistake of leaving the beach too early and missing out on the most spectacular explosions of color. I have done that far too many times and it is heartbreaking to look in my rear view mirror only to see the whole sky ignite in a burst of color! So, always stick around a few minutes beyond the point where you think the sunset is over.
I often call my friends and mention that I think there is going to be a nice sunset and many of them are puzzled as to how I know that. Pay attention to the hints, beginning with the sunrise. Many times when we’ve had a beautiful sunrise, it is followed by a stunning sunset. Watch the clouds throughout the day – sunsets are always more dramatic with clouds. When we have had Santa Ana winds blowing through the day, the pollution blows out over the ocean and can result in very colorful sunsets. Recently we had a thick fog all afternoon and I gave up on it clearing in time for the sunset so I started driving home. Only a few blocks away, I looked back towards the ocean and the fog had suddenly lifted and all the moisture in the air created the most spectacular sunset.
And, if you have a hungry family at home that isn’t impressed with you racing out the door instead of making dinner, my secret weapon is to throw some meat in a slow cooker early in the day. That way, dinner is ready when you come in all wet and sandy and raving about the amazing sunset photos you just got!
© 2014 Diane Edmonds, All Rights Reserved