Sunsets study with Wise Camera app artistic compositions
Sunsets have awed humanity for millennia, and sunsets over the California Pacific Ocean are a beautiful example. Sunsetting is the time in the evening when the powerful sun approaches the horizon, daylight starts fading into the twilight, and then the sun disappears under the ocean until the next day.
This blog post will study in-depth one sunset with five Wise Camera app artistic compositions. I took the photos at Ocean Beach, San Francisco, and used the Wise Camera app with my iPhone 13 Pro Max wide camera lens, which has a 26mm focal length and f1.5 aperture. I hope that this post will excite you to try the artistic compositions yourself, wherever you are.
I grew up watching sunsets over the Pacific Ocean, not in California, but on the other side of the world, the southern hemisphere, in northern Chile. I spent each summer day as a little boy at the beach with my friends. The beach days were full of playing beach pickleball, swimming, playing with the waves, and having too much Fanta soda and Popsicles. When the sunset was approaching, without hesitation and like grown-up adults, my friends and I quietly sat on the beach and watched the sunset, knowing that tomorrow would be another fun day.
For some interesting cosmic reason, sunsets are special for everyone, no matter if you are a kid or an adult, and no matter where you grew up in the world. Sunsets tell a story of hope, which humanity shares. The day might have been good or bad, but sunsets always bring hope for a better new day. While looking at a sunset, nobody thinks, "oh... tomorrow will be a horrible day."
Over the ocean, sunsets are even more spectacular - everything changes. The sun seems to move quickly, and the sky develops from light blue to dark. Toward the horizon, the mix of dark blue sky and the orange sun makes the sky look violet, and the horizon becomes a solid orange line. The blindingly bright sun tames down to a tolerable orange while sinking into the ocean. Like a distorted mirror, the constantly moving sea reflects sparkling orange flares. If you're lucky, the sun's rays will pass through a wave like passing through stained church glass.
We, photographers, have very little time to capture the moment, usually between 2 to 5 minutes depending on your location on earth. Let's consider the story elements of an ocean sunset. The sun is the star of the composition, no pun intended. The most basic supporting elements are:
the horizon line that divides the sky and ocean
the actual sky and the ocean
maybe patches of clouds
the shiny wet beach sand
Adding more elements, like the silhouette of a sailboat or a pod of pelicans surfing the air above the waves, would have made the composition more challenging. For this study, I only have the sun, horizon, sky, ocean, and a bit of shiny sand. This makes this sunset a relatively simple composition with few elements to consider in the frame. I strongly believe that color is a big part of a sunset composition, as patches of colors are abstract supporting elements to the sunset story.
I will start with the Rule of Thirds, the most used artistic composition rule, but with an unusual take on it, then Symmetry for its simple beauty, followed by the Golden Triangle, the Fibonacci Spiral for its complexity, and finally the Negative Space artistic composition.
Rule of Thirds
The Rule of Thirds artistic composition rule is a classic composition. I wanted to be a bit provocative for this photo to entice the viewer. I framed the sun above the top horizontal line of the Rule of Thirds, showing more of the shiny dark wet sand reflecting the sky and sun rays. This is an unusual composition, as many people would have chosen to see more of the sky instead by placing the sun at the bottom horizontal line, but I found the texture of the beach sand to be more interesting than the sky.
I wanted to take the time to talk about lens flares. Do you see the little bright light on the bottom center of the frame? This is a lens flare. Flares happen when a bright light source like the sunlight scatters or flares inside the lens system because lens systems are composed of several lenses inside the camera. Lens flares appear on all cameras, from iPhones to professional cameras like DSLRs and mirrorless cameras, and they are hard to avoid.
Using the Symmetry artistic composition rule gives the viewer a feeling of perfection and tranquility. Each quadrant gets an equal chance in the frame giving a sense of simpleness. From the viewers' perspective, there is no additional need for thinking about the composition. Sometimes less is more, and simplicity is wonderful.
In a beach sunset, there are no elements to provide a sense of perspectives like trees, roads, creeks, or buildings. The Golden Triangle artistic composition creates a sense of distance as the main subject is off center, allowing the viewer's eyes to drift farther to one side on the horizon line. In the Wise Camera app, I compared the four Golden Triangle orientations and selected the one below. In this photo, the shoreline rises as it moves to the right side of the frame, adding perspective and depth to the composition.
The Fibonacci Spiral, one of the most challenging artistic compositions, might not make sense for sunsets scenes that have horizontal lines with no curved lines. However, in this composition, I wanted to use the Fibonacci Spiral for positioning the horizon line and the sun, showing more of the sky to contrast with the Rule of Thirds from above. I purposely put the sun on the right side of the frame as this is how I saw the sunsets in the southern hemisphere when I was growing up. In the Wise Camera app, I could have tapped the screen to rotate the Fibonacci Spiral to four different orientations to seek different interpretations in the composition, but this was perfect. Would the viewer understand this? Maybe not, but I know anyone from Chile seeing this photo may find an affinity to it.
This Negative Space artistic composition is about showing less to the viewer. The composition would not have worked if other elements were in the frame, like a sailboat silhouette or a pod of flying pelicans. The purpose of the Negative Space composition is to highlight the absence of elements, in this case, the loneliness of the sun in relation to the immense empty sky. If I had waited too long, perhaps the moon or stars would have appeared in the frame, and the Negative Space composition would not have worked.
You can see the pesky lens flare in the upper right quadrant, which can be removed via editing the photo.
This sunset study is an example of how you can practice using the Wise Camera app's artistic compositions to explore multiple interpretations of a scene. By allowing you to frame the scene with different artistic compositions and orientations, the Wise Camera app empowers you to improve your photography by experimenting and learning.