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Sunrise and Sunset (Environmental Lighting)

Previously in this series, we’ve learnt that environmental light can be seen in a variety of different colours. In this tutorial, we’ll share with you some great tips and tricks for shooting at sunset. From creating a beautiful silhouette to properly exposing your shots, you’ll learn how to light video at sunset to get the most out of the golden hour.

Shooting in Daytime vs. Sunset

During the day, the light we see is referred to as daylight and has a temperature between 5500 and 6500 Kelvin. As we move from daylight to sunset, we’ll start to get more orange and warmth in our light. The light around this time of day has a colour temperature around 2000 K. Not only does the colour of the light change, but the position of the sun also changes throughout the day, putting our light source at different heights.


Keep this in mind because as the position of the sun drops throughout the day, the shapes of the shadows will change too. Take a look at this example: On the left, we have the sun above our subject, and on the right, we have shot at sunset. From the images, we can see how different the colour and quality of the light are at different hours throughout the day.

daytime vs sunset portraitdaytime vs sunset portraitdaytime vs sunset portrait
Daylight versus the light at sunset

The sunset is often called the golden hour. This refers to the warm and golden appearance it has. It is also a sought-after time for shooting footage.

Exposure

Exposure is the amount of light we let enter through the camera’s lens. Usually we want to expose correctly, so that we can see detail in the shadow and the highlights. But when filming at sunset, you might want to underexpose a little bit. Check out this example from a video clip shot with a normal exposure.

Example of a normal exposure during sunset

We can see Kim looking at the sunset, but the sun is actually overexposed. It’s too bright in this scenario. We’re going to focus on the sun (in terms of exposure) as we want to make sure that the highlights are exposed correctly. Here’s the same shot but with the exposure adjusted. You can see the colours of the golden hour jump out way more.

Exposing for the highlights

Silhouettes 

Speaking about underexposure, this brings us to the next technique, a silhouette, which looks great at sunset. To do this, you want to aim your camera towards the sun, with your subject between the camera and the sun. When we do this, we are ensuring that we have a good deal of light entering the lens. From here, you want to dial down your aperture, so that the subject in your shot is completely black. We don’t want to see any more detail in the subject.

Shooting a silhouette at sunsetShooting a silhouette at sunsetShooting a silhouette at sunset
Shooting a silhouette at sunset

Reflections

When filming at sunset, we tend to aim the camera towards the sun a lot. But we shouldn’t forget to look behind us. The orange colours from the sunset are very recognizable, and subjects that are lit from this source have a very magical feel to them.

So in this example, we’ve got Kim looking at the sunset and instead of looking over her shoulder, we’re shooting her from a side profile. Because of the colours in the shot, the audience will know she’s looking at the sunset. 

subject looking at sunsetsubject looking at sunsetsubject looking at sunset

Summary

So that’s how to light video at sunset. The sunset gives a very orange and warm colour to your shots, therefore giving it the name “the golden hour.”  Make sure you capture this gold by exposing your camera for the light and not the subject. Even if you underexpose a little too much, you can create beautiful silhouettes.

It’s also good to look behind you to where the light is shining. This colour looks great on skin, so make sure to take advantage of that. 

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