Getting The Shot – Salton Sea Sunrise

Sunrise at the Salton SeaI’m going to try something new here. Usually I talk about some technique and build up to getting a shot with that technique. In this series I am going to show you a picture I took and then explain the technique used to get it. It’s fairly similar except that before I would do a shot specifically to demonstrate a technique while this series will take an image that I had previously created and then explain the technique on how I got it. Hopefully that makes sense and if you like this approach, please tell me in the comments so I know whether or not to continue doing this type of article.

The Image

The image I am starting off with is Sunrise on the Salton Sea which pretty much describes the image pretty well as it was taken just after sunrise on the west bank of the Salton Sea (specifically 20 minutes after sunrise). The sun casts a dramatic reflection all the way across the water while a dead palm tree and the shore line add some additional detail.

Sunrise at the Salton Sea

Sunrise at the Salton Sea

Making the image

The image itself is fairly simple as there are no extra lights used and virtually no post processing. The image is pretty much as it appeared in camera.

Of course, shooting into the Sun may not be the easiest task unless you have a neutral gradient filter but none was used on this shot. In fact, I didn’t even use optimal camera settings as I had changed them on accident and couldn’t see that I had changed the ISO setting in the viewfinder as I was trying not to go blind from looking at the Sun.

The ISO should have been at 100 but ended up being at 400 and the first attempt was at 1/1600th and f/5.6 and came out pretty overexposed.

1/1600th f/5.6 ISO 400

The second attempt was a little better as I adjusted the settings to f/11 at 1/1600th. This was a pretty good image but the rays on the Sun were not very pronounced and I was picking up too much detail in the foreground.

1/1600th f/11 ISO 400

In order to kill off the detail in the foreground a faster shutter speed was needed so I pushed it to 1/2000th. To pick up more detail from the Sun less aperture was needed so I closed it down to f/22. In Adobe Lightroom just a touch of Vibrance, Setting the Camera Calibration to Camera Standard, and adding a touch of Sharpness where all the post production that was done.

Sunrise at the Salton Sea

1/2000th f/22 ISO 400

Again the final image and settings show that you can actually shoot straight into the Sun and pull off a nice image without any additional hardware or heavy post processing.

Equipment Used

Camera: Canon 50D


Kerry Garrison lives in Castle Rock, Colorado with his wife and two dogs. With 10 years of experience shooting products and 5 years of experience in the wedding industry, Kerry brings a good deal of technical know-how and can explain topics in easy-to-understand terms.

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8 Responses

  1. I really DO like this approach. This is how so many of us, even some old commercial shooters who've come out of the film/polaroid days, dial in our digital creations these days. Hearing about what you gauged in your decisions is interesting and may lead to factors or solutions I never would have thought of.

    Keep it up. (And thanks.)

    -Bradford Jones

  2. Jesse says:

    I hope I'm not being too nit picky here, but f/22 did bring with it the visibility of sensor dust. I count at least 5 visible spots going from the upper left of the sun diagonally down to just right of the sun, plus a few more in less visible areas. Of course, like you noted, if you had optimal ISO say at 100 you would be down to f/11 and the specks were small enough that they'd disappear.

    I've made the mistake of checking settings before, but a hundred times worse… I was shooting indoors at ISO 1600 and forgot to change it back to ISO 200ish on a bright and sunny day… I was thinking "boy I'm getting a lot of shutter speed" and didn't even think to check the ISO until later, when I got into post it looked like a black snow storm (I hadn't learned about sensor dust back then on my 20D and never saw before since I usually shot close to f/2.8).

  3. Pag says:

    That's why I love the auto-iso mode. I used to always forget to change my iso, but now I just set it to auto-iso and I don't have to remember.

    • kgarrison says:

      I personally would never use Auto-ISO. If my settings are wrong I don't want the camera bumping up to a noisier ISO setting.

      • Pag says:

        It's a matter of personal preference, I guess. I'd rather have a sharp and slightly noisier picture than an unsharp, unnoisy picture. (Or have a noisier picture when I could have the exact same picture with less noise, as your example in this article)

        Of course, I turn auto-iso off often when I want to achieve a specific shot. But when I'm doing street photography or exploring some area and taking pictures, I like not having to change yet another setting when moving between sun-lit and shadowed areas.

  4. llane says:

    I find this extemely helpful. I find it even more helpful when metering info is provided…in what metering mode was this shot? And if you used Spot metering (as some do), on what area of the scene did you meter?

    Thank you!

    • kgarrison says:

      I generally always use spot metering but the metering was pretty well useless when looking right at the Sun. I couldn't see the exposure meter or settings because it was so bright looking through the viewfinder.

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