Aerial Sunsets

edited September 2016 Posted in » Nikon D3300 Forum
Hi - I've been playing around with my D3300 for about a year, and I'm about to go on a sunset helicopter tour of NYC. I have the Nikkor 18-300mm lens and a Nikkor 55mm lens. I am assuming I'll use the 18-300mm for the trip. Any tips for what settings to use to capture the sunset and the skyscrapers while on the trip? I am definitely an amateur, but would love to capture some nice pictures I can put on display at home.


  • edited September 2016
    Sunset pictures pose a real problem for dynamic range, and the meter may try to overexpose to get the shadow information from the city at the expense of the sky. You won't have the setup time to use a graduated ND filter here, as some sunset photographers do to minimize this.

    If you have a chance before the event, try some routine sunsets to get an idea of the exposure you like. If you don't have time for this, then bracket your shots, and try a few at -1 and -2 stops, and don't worry if they look dark in the camera's monitor.

    I'd recommend underexposing so that the colors in the sky are brilliant, even if it results in dark or nearly silhouetted buildings. Some shadow information can be gained in post processing but lost highlights cannot.

    Try to remember not to center the horizon. If your interest is more in the sky, keep the horizon low.

    Even if the color interest is in the sky, try to keep the skyline and recognizable buildings in focus.

    Starbursts and rays will look a little more dramatic if the lens is stopped down more. When the sun itself is visible, try a shot or two with a small aperture (like f11 or so). When no sun is visible you'll probably do better to open up the lens to gain shutter speed.

    When you're looking around, don't forget to look for interesting things other than the obvious skyline and sky. Reflections in windows and large glass surfaces, ponds, lit traffic, dramatic shadows, and so forth. Manhattan has a lot of interesting things going on around the edges. The harbor, the rivers, the Statue of Liberty, and whatnot.

    Shoot Raw so you can alter exposure, white balance and picture control. Auto white balance may be too cool for a sunset, so try overcast or cloudy for more vivid color.

  • Thank you so much @Bruto. I'll play around tonight!

    I'm thinking that reflections on the buildings is going to be key for me — especially as the helicopter is moving. Any tips as to steadiness when in a copter? I'm thinking that the fast shutter speeds should help with that, right?
  • Fast shutter speeds will generally help, though you want to be a little cautious about going so high you end up at noisy ISO levels. There's no downside to faster unless you're seeking blur on purpose, so go as fast as you can afford without sacrificing other needs. Remember too that required shutter speed increases as you lengthen focal length, so you'll probably be better off with slightly wider views. For a sort of rule of thumb, you should get pretty steady hand held shots not accounting either for the helicopter or the VR at the reciprocal of the effective focal length. That, in this case, would be the nominal length x 1.5, so figure that at 300 standing on the ground with no VR, you'd do pretty well at 1/450 or faster. That's pretty fast, whereas you could shoot at 18 mm and about 1/30. You'll get more depth of field at narrower focal lengths too, which will allow a higher speed. Lots of compromising to find the balance.

    A VR lens helps a lot, but make sure that you don't brace it against the vibrating machine or its windows, as that can fool the VR. You're probably best off hand held. The fast shallow vibrations of the helicopter may not seem obvious to the occupant, but the camera will pick them up as blur.
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