Short days – unusual sunsets

It is the season! We are fast approaching the shortest day of the year. Sunlight now lasts about 4-5 hrs and the sun is very low in the sky. That means of course that sunrise and sunset happen at “decent” hours. But more importantly, it is setting in places that are unique for this time of year.

Yesterday I did a tour for Iceland Photo Tours with a client from Denver. After picking him up from the airport we did the classic Golden Circle daytour, but with a photography twist. By the time we got to Geysir, the geothermal area with spouting geyser and bubbling blue water, we were all alone. Not one person in the area by sunrise. It is all about timing. 

We then visited the Gullfoss waterfall, went a little bit of the beaten track to shoot a glacier, and then headed back to the National Park of Þingvellir. By the time we got there it was magic time. As we were shooting the famous Öxarárfoss waterfall the sun went down behind the Almannagjá fracture, painting the sky with an orange tint. It was magic time.

Sunset by the waterfall Öxarárfoss in Þingvellir national park.

This lasted only about 20 minutes and we had to think fast. As you can see, the contrast between the sky and the black cliffs is huge, way out of the dynamic range of my camera. I was only using a 6 stop ND filter to get the motion blur on the water, but did not have a graduated filter to darken the sky. So I simply used my hand, carefully placing it while watching through the viewfinder, and then moving slowly to soften the edge. And when there were around 2 secs left of the 20″ exposure I removed it from the lens, allowing a proper exposure of the sky. I the opened up the shadows a bit in Lightroom, sharpen and clarity. My client had never tried this technique before, and was thrilled to have learned something new.