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How To Frame A Spectacular, But Boring, Sunset

Have you ever been at the beach and were witness to a gorgeous sunset? The colors, the calm wind and not to mention you were likely miles away from work? Possibly on holiday?

In that near perfect moment you took a picture because it was too good to pass up.

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When you look at that photo, the feeling on that moment comes rushing back to you and you smile. This is my photo and I remember right where I was and how enjoyable it was.

The problem comes when you show your photo to others who weren’t there. They can’t instantly feel the warm wind and smell the salted air or taste the margarita you were enjoying. They see a boring picture.

Why is it boring? The viewer goes straight to the center, where the subject is, and looks away because they feel they took it all in (mainly with periphery). And they think, “Nice, but not nothing much is going on.”

Before we fix this dilemma,  let me state that shooting the sun setting on the ocean can be fairly boring most of the time. If there are no clouds, there is no “aftershow” and things get dark quickly. I’m not going to lie and tell you I can “Make your sunset photos OUTSTANDING!!” when the scene was actually fairly plain, but still gorgeous.

To jazz things up we’ll apply the Rule Of Thirds in this simplest of exercises.

First, let’s lay the Rule Of Thirds grid over our boring scene.

Sun1

The idea here is to move that sun off of its center spot and onto one of those grid lines. Let’s go to the left.

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Improving (although I overshot the line a little, that’s really okay). The viewer now has a some room to move around the image. They may focus on the sun first and then gaze right, or the other way around. Either way, it’s more interesting. Now let’s move the sun up to the intersection of two lines.

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And here it is with the grid lines on.

Sun2

Viewers have even more room to move in the image.

It’s just that simple. It’s not meant to be spectacularly different, but it is more pleasing than the centered version.

Taking a look at the same sunset, let’s go with a vertical tack.

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Centered.

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Moved high (maybe, you might note, just a touch higher than the Rule Of Thirds lines…that’s because rules in photography can always be broken if you like).

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High and to the side.

What about going the other way?

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Simple changes can make a sizable difference. They can make your photos more pleasing, if that is what you’re going for.

The sun setting over the ocean can be one of the most boring photos you will take, while being paradoxically beautiful to witness. Move the sun around in the frame and play a little. If the Rule Of Thirds isn’t working for you, break it. But try to understand why you’re breaking it so you can establish your own style.

And don’t forget to set your camera down at some point and just enjoy the end of another day.

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Peter West Carey
Peter West Carey

leads photo tours and workshops in Nepal, Bhutan, Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles and beyond. He is also the creator of Photography Basics – A 43 Day Adventure & 40 Photography Experiments, web-based tutorials taking curious photographers on a fun ride through the basics of learning photography.

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