recipe for a sunset

recipe for a sunset

by Janice Nigro

Most days I am out on the beach around sunset for an evening walk, but also to marvel at the beauty of nature even in an urban environment as big as the Los Angeles area.

Sunsets mark the end of another day, and it is a sort of mini-celebration each night at my luck to see one more. When I recently had to buy a new lens for my camera and the owner of the store asked which type of photos I liked to take, I think he raised his eyebrows when I responded with, “I like to photograph the sunset.”

A bit cliché I suppose. Who doesn’t like to take photos of the sunset? What could be photographed more on Earth than the sunset? Ok maybe anemone fish…

And yet we still take more photographs of the sunset. All you have to do is look at #sunset. If you upload a photo to #sunset, it is only an instant before your photo disappears from the newly uploaded.

The challenge every day is taking a different photograph at sunset. Clouds are perhaps your best ally in getting a unique shot. Sometimes I feel it is ok just to take the same photograph because it is more of a symbolic act or ritual than making a different photograph of the sunset.

Lately though I have been breaking the rules.

My sunsets are dead on sunsets. No rule of thirds for me.

My sunsets are entirely overexposed. Some of these end up being the photographs that receive the most interest. Overexposing photos is an old fashioned way of doing something that ironically you might have to resort to just to stand out today.  Like finding a job today-easy to apply for thousands of jobs at once because of the Internet, but it’s a black hole unless you make contact with a human. Or if you send a friend an actual card for her birthday, she might actually write back and thank you for that.

My sunsets are incomplete. Ones where the last seconds of the sun are barely visible over the horizon, at that moment where it’s almost only sea and sky.

My sunsets may not even have any sun in them at all. There is this moment especially in a sky filled with clouds where the colors are more vibrant and varied than in direct sunlight. There is some science behind this effect-the further away the sun is, the longer the light travels, so it’s red instead of blue, until of course it is dark.

I do have a fancy apparatus to play with. It has been with me for several years and was an upgrade from an original purchase where I was purposely sold a used camera when I thought it was a new camera. As one of my friends remarked, not only was it a used camera, but it was a damaged used camera. Word of caution is to open the camera and look inside in the future if you are making a purchase.

It was a long drawn out process between several countries (from Singapore to various European countries to Sweden and then Norway) to get the camera replaced with a new camera, the price of which I had paid for. It was astounding what company representatives had accused me of-including causing the extensive water damage myself because as everyone knows, Bergen is one of the rainiest spots on Earth.

I did not know how to use a DSLR, but it was pretty clear that it was not the underwater kind. So I worked hard to get this camera-in the end, the company gave me a new camera which was an upgrade to the latest model at the time and a fleece jacket that now was a big advertisement for the company that I was a little disappointed in.

My lens is perhaps not exactly the right one, but it is one that is good enough. A polarizing filter, and I use manual mode. But even with a great camera and accessories, I sometimes prefer my iPhone because it has less resolution. A series of photos I took one evening using the camera I had with me, my iPhone, ended up on fabric because they look like paintings rather than photographs.

So I have to wonder sometimes about breaking the rules. We talk a lot about it and yet even in my own field of science tradition still rules. Photography is not such a big risk. With digital cameras, you can just keep trying until you get something that you like. And if you haven’t gotten it right, you can change it in Photoshop. It is all a form of art and although some might be opposed this approach, part of the fun of photography these days is that you can make changes like an artist with a paintbrush.

It is not as easy as you would think. You can make a photograph more moody by changing colors, but only if you have taken a photograph with the right elements in it to begin with. I play with cloud color especially but this is only possible if I have taken a photo with the clouds correctly in the first place.


Sunsets will always be photographed, painted, or simply admired. I am not sure if it is where I am taking them or how I am taking them that make them better. But I especially love that I can see sunsets over an ocean while in an urban setting.

©2015 Janice Marie Nigro/


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