Three sunsets in one

You don’t take a photo, you make it – Ansel Adams
You don’t take a photo, you fake it – Paul Cowan

I THINK my version is probably more apposite today.

Everybody likes a good sunset, don’t they? Just as a sunrise (like the one in my banner) marks a new beginning, so a sunset speaks of balmy evenings relaxing with good food and drink after a day’s toil.

But how often do we really come across those vibrant reds, yellows and oranges, spread like a pool of blood across the western sky?

Here’s my latest, I hope you like it:

Sell Art Online

Except, there is something not quite honest about it. Here is the file as it came from the camera:

So how did I get from that to my finished version? It’s simple, really, if you’ve got Photoshop. Here is a step-by-step guide:

Open the file in Photoshop, go to the Layer menu, select New fill layer/gradient, select any colour, change mode to “overlay” and click OK.

The gradient fill box appears.

Select reflected then click inside the gradient box (the thing that goes from black to white) and another dialogue box appears. At the bottom is a gradient with four sliders, one at each corner, each of them with an attached, black colour picker box. Click on the bottom left colour-picker to open the “select stop colour” box. Use the colour slider bar in this and the colour selector in the tone box to select an orange-brown that suits your sunset (you can already see a preview of what it is doing to the picture). When you are satisfied, close all the boxes. At this point, you might want to adjust the percentage fill in the layers panel or experiment with using soft light or some other kind of overlay. The possibilities throughout the process are endless.

When everything looks good, flatten the layers and then make any final adjustments to the contrast, saturation etc. that you like.

It sounds very complicated but once you have done it once or twice it becomes quite easy.

And that is how to … not take … not make … but fake a sunset. Do it well and people will be astounded by your vision. Do it badly and it will look garish and horrible, but people will probably still swoon over it.

And my third sunset from one? It is this:

Sell Art Online

Again, it is a Photoshop fake, this time using a rather expensive add-on program called Silver Efex Pro from Nik software, though with a bit of messing around it would be possible to get something similar straight out of Photoshop.

The reason I processed this file like this is that I felt the minimalist shapes and their starkness worked well as a composition and that the colours detracted from that. Throwing in a faux-film retro effect emphasises the starkness and adds a romantic veneer.

Would Ansel Adams have approved of all this jiggery-pokery? You know, I rather think he might have. As a technician, he is remembered most for his Zone System for exposing negatives but that was just a way of maximising the information available for printing. It was darkroom wizardry that squeezed the best out of those negs, that was where he would “make” his photos. Photoshop just takes that a step further


About ambientimages

Paul Cowan is a former journalist turned full-time photographer.
This entry was posted in Aegina, Canon 5D MkII, Gradient filter, Greece, Islands, Photographic art, Photographic techniques, Photography, Sunset and sunrise techniques, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Three sunsets in one

  1. Paul says:

    Yep: agreed. Ansel Adams would, I think, have taken the view that it is the composition and how you massage that to produce the end result that matters. Photoshop is an extension of ‘dark-room’ technique to another level . . . .

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