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Photography

Quick Tips: The Best Sunset Pictures Made From Home

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If you want to take fantastic sunset pictures you do not necessarily have to go outside. Many of my best clouds, sky and sunsets are taken from my home, in a dense urban area.

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The view from my kitchen window can be fantastic some days.

When people look at some of my sunset images, they imagine I live in a high place overlooking a mountain range that turns reddish when the sun goes down. In fact, I live in a regular suburban three-story building. But I've two windows facing West, and have a 180 degree arc of the sky that seems like a stage for photographers interested in photographing the changes in the sky. So I keep watching outside all the time.

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After the sun hides behind the hills there's still a lot of photography to do.

I could take a different sunset picture every day, and I could amass a vast quantity of clouds shapes and formations, if I just sat on a chair by the window all day long. Windows, in fact, as I've two: my kitchen and living room windows.

I am usually in the kitchen, late afternoon, preparing dinner (it calms me down after an intense day writing and photographing, and my wife likes the arrangement). I have a camera ready over on the table lots of times. Just glancing outside now and then I perceive how the light changes. And if I feel there is something interesting I grab the camera and shoot.

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Man made lines can complement the natural beauty of the sky.

If the sky gets so exciting, visually, that I want to get more of it, I move to the large living room window, which gives me a more straight on approach to the scene. I usually work with a 17-40mm on a Canon EOS 50D, but sometimes use the 10-22mm to get even more sky in the frame. If I want to shoot the Moon when it goes down behind the hill tops of Sintra mountain, I'll use my 100-400mm.


Hidden Buildings

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A wide angle lens is probably the best option to fill the frame with the vastness of the sky and the tonal gradation.

The resulting images, as shown here, can be fantastic. The funny thing about it is that the darker area is, in fact nothing special to look at during the day. My kitchen window opens to a vast area of buildings and more buildings.

But at sunset, when the sun goes behind the gentle hills of Serra de Sintra (Sintra mountain range), with its fantastic palace perched on top of an old volcanic chimney, the view turns from ordinary to magic so those viewing my photographs think I've a fantastic view all the time. Somehow I am cheating, but the result is great.

You do not even need a DSLR to do this. A compact that lets you control the exposure will be enough to get some great sunset pictures. I usually tend to underexpose up to two stops from the suggested exposure in order to get the look I want. As I could not get both the exposure for the ground and sky, I let the ground go dark and get the best tones from the blues and oranges I have in front of me. Even after the sun has vanished from the sky, you can use the "magic hour" to get some fantastic pictures.

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Photographing the sky can be an ongoing project that sets a goal to your photography. And will get you closer to nature.

Try it yourself. Check the views from your home windows at different hours of the day to see if there's a reason to keep watching them regularly. It does not need to be a view as I've. Sometimes reflections in buildings close by, a group of trees in the square right in front of one's house, all become different as the sun progresses in the sky. Once you've marked your home "hot spots," remember to check them. And keep a camera ready to use close by.

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I could take 365 different pictures of the sky in one year. Make it a project for you.

I always have a camera ready to shoot and I also have my own "hot spots" at home: the two west facing windows mentioned, the balcony of my home office, where I have vases with plants that attract insects and sometimes birds (not as much as I would like, really), and my older son's room window in the attic, that gives me a higher view towards the west view. As shown here, you do not need to move much away from home to do a lot of photography.

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