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Long Duration Sunsets – One More Lesson Learned

Posted by Tom Benedict on 04/01/2014

I’ve been participating in a photo assignment on The challenge this month is to do aerial photographs of water and the things water does. Most of the folks on RCGroups use RC aircraft for their aerial photography: helicopters, multi-rotors, and fixed-wing. I’m mostly using kites, though I did make one abortive attempt to use a plane a couple of days ago. The photos from my last post came out of my efforts for this assignment.

Yesterday afternoon I headed down to Hapuna Point with a full compliment of KAP and PAP gear to do some more aerials for the assignment, but the weather was overcast and the light was lousy. I managed to get my T2i in the air using a kite, and put my A650 and Gopro up using both my 16′ carbon pole and my 24′ painter’s pole. But everything I did looked horrid. Which just goes to show: you can’t fix bad light by throwing equipment at it. If it’s not there, it’s just not there. I eventually figured this out and packed it in.

But one thing overcast skies are sometimes good for is sunsets. There was a band of open sky at the horizon that hinted at good things to come. Waialea Bay is just south of Hapuna Point, and has a spot I think should make a good sunset. I just hadn’t pulled it off yet. So that’s where I headed next.

Making Waialea Sunset

When I got there I stuck an ND10 filter on the end of my lens and tried to pick a spot. It took me a while to sort out just what I wanted out of the photo, so I’m glad I got there early. As the sun set it peeked out from below the clouds and lit the sky up just the way I had hoped. And unlike my previous session at Waialea Bay, there was almost no wind so my lens wasn’t getting coated by sea spray. Perfect!

There was just one catch: the surf was up. I didn’t notice it at the time, but it was tumbling all the rocks on the beach. By the time I tripped the shutter for the last time I was up to a five minute exposure. This made for a lot of tumbled rocks. This came back to haunt me later.

Five minutes is a long time for a shutter to be open on an un-cooled digital camera. I knew the dark current was going to hurt. As I was packing my gear I put the lens cap on my camera and started a five minute dark. When I got home I used Pixel Fixer to remove hot pixels and to subtract the five minute dark from my RAW file. A little processing later and…

I had hundreds of what looked like ghost rocks scattered all over the sand! As each wave had come in, it had re-arranged the rocks. Over and over and over again. The lower third of my photo was essentially unusable. I wound up cropping it into a wide pseudo-panoramic format, but I lost some of the elements I wanted in the frame. So not perfect, but still pretty.

Waialea Sunset

At some point when the waves are lower I want to try this again. And in the future I’ll be on the lookout for things like wind and surf shifting objects in the frame. As I found out the hard way, they really don’t work.

– Tom


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