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Great tips for shooting fabulous Florida sunset photos

Iconic sunset photos are the time-honored postcard to remember a favorite beach or family vacation.

And in Florida, the sun's a willing subject, viewable nightly from 1,200 miles of coastline and never setting the same way twice.

You don't have to be Ansel Adams to score the perfect shot, but there is an art to getting it right.

Sunset photography falls under the heading of "landscape" or "nature" photography for good reason, since anything from seasons to shadows can make the difference between a so-so shot and a stunner.

Here are some key considerations.

Location, Location, Location

Alan Maltz, whose dramatic landscape and wildlife photographs have been collected worldwide, says: "Pre-select a place that gives you full exposure to the sunset, where you can see the sun fully disappear into the horizon."

For the best result, and not surprisingly, Maltz points to the ocean. Once you've got your beach, show up early, about a half-hour before sunset, and plan to stay.

"Most of the lighting magic happens after," says Maltz, who considers his claim to fame shooting in the right type of lighting. For a truly dramatic image, experiment with light. Since it changes constantly during a sunset, it's worth taking picture after picture.

Photographer Phillippe Diederich, a professor at Ringling College of Art and Design, agrees: "Take a moment to turn and see what the light is doing to the coast itself. If you're in a desolate area like a beach, you'll see what wonders the light does to the landscape. Don't fixate so much on that orange sun; turn around and use that light to your advantage."

Lights, Camera, Action

Diederich says winter offers the best light for sunsets because the sun moves south and stays closer to the horizon.

"The sky and colors become more saturated because of this angular, sharp light," he said. "In late summer, shoot a storm sunset if you can. I spend a lot of time in the Everglades chasing those deep dark clouds. Sometimes I'll get lucky and catch a rainbow or lightning, too."

With so much light in play, overexposure is a concern. While the built-in metering mode in many cameras can help, Maltz recommends bracketing. By simply turning your camera's dial to run through different degrees of exposures and taking picture after picture at under- and overexposed settings, you'll find the best set-up for your lighting conditions.

As for composing the shot, a common mistake is to put the horizon in the center of the picture.

"Think rule of thirds and then some," Diederich suggests, where the horizon takes up less than a third of the photo. Both photographers advise shooting in wide-angle or landscape mode, and they insist that framing is key.

"It's always more interesting if you incorporate something in the foreground like palm trees, sailboats or birds," says Maltz. "It adds interest and dimension as well as a different perspective."

Best Bets

Maltz is based in Key West, but he finds the Naples area intriguing for sunset photography.

"The outer isles of Marco Island are fascinating for sunsets," he says. "There's such diversity there, all these different nooks and crannies. You can find mounds of shells and octagonal shaped houses and sandbars."

Maltz also names Keeywadin Island and the town of Goodland as rich sources for both light and foreground detail.

For Diederich, who admits to an obsession with skies, the place to go is any desolate beach on the West coast. But he urges considering other sunset opportunities.

"Shooting the sunset in the mangroves in Ten Thousand Islands near Everglades City, along the Suwannee River Wilderness Trail or at a horse farm in Ocala are some of my favorites," he says.

Florida's diverse landscape and beaches make it easy to capture the sun, but a little vision goes a long way. Aside from that, "Pray for an interesting event," Maltz jokes.

After all, the best sunset shots happen with a little luck, too.

Editor's note: This story was first published by

Great tips for shooting fabulous Florida sunset photos 11/10/11 [Last modified: Thursday, November 10, 2011 5:51pm]
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