Shooting sunsets

I'm interested in any advice you all may have regarding sunset scenes. I'm scheduled to shoot two of them in the next few weeks and although I'm fairly confident that it will turn out nicely, I've never done a sunset before and I'm a curious whether there's anything I can do on-set to maximize the effect.

It's a low-budget production, so I'm using dual Samsung SCD-23 MiniDVs. Nice camera for the money, but I'm getting very annoyed that it does not allow you to adjust focus, aperture and shutter independently, but rather only one at a time. I'm not necessarily against buying an adapter ring (it's a 30mm lens) and a filter, but it's going to have to come out of my own pocket so I'd rather avoid that if I can, or use a homebrew solution.

My foremost concern is the safety of the cameras. Am I going to burn up the CCDs if I frame the sun directly?

I'm also curious how many films manage to get that lovely orange silhouette. Is there post work involved there? I'm particularly thinking of one of the last shots in Hidalgo when Mortenson rides off into the sun. The behind-the-scenes shots indicated that the captured shot looked pretty plain and uninteresting, but somehow they managed to tweak it to produce the result seen in the movie.

Thanks in advance for any comments you can give me.
At sunset the angle of the sun should be fairly safe that it's not going to fry your CCD's, but you'll want to wait until it's starting to disappear behind the horizon, or hope for clouds...

Most films get that "lovely orange silhouette" by shooting on FILM, where you don't have to worry about frying your ccds..
Thanks a lot, Will. It's been fairly hazy the last few days so maybe I'll be fortunate.

The thought occurred to me the other day that I *could* do it in post, but I'd really rather not if I can avoid it. Nothing like the real thing.

Unfortunately there happens to be a barn not too far away from where we're supposed to shoot it, so the sun will still be fairly high in the sky. Is there anything I can do to save my precious cameras or should I simply avoid the shots directly facing the sun?
You know.. the haze might do the trick.. I was driving to get some dinner this evening at about 7pm, and the sun was still a good 20 minutes or more from hitting the horizon, but it was a beautiful deep orange, with out being too bright to look at.. I imagine if you're able to look at it without adverse effects to your eyes, the CCD should be a-ok...

I was going to get a shot of it actually, but by the time I got back home it was below the horizon.. :(


Yes, tiffen has a sunset filter. They also have some nice gradient filters that are commonly used for this sort of thing. Also, anytime I shoot anything with the sky in it I always use a polarizer. The big trick is to get the actors to do a good performance before the sun is gone.
Thanks all for the advice. As Joe said, time will be absolutely critical. Hopefully I'll be able to get everyone together in advance to practice the camera routine with the actors. I already happen have a polarizing filter for my own camera so perhaps if I can pick up the proper adapter rings I can use it as well.


Boz Uriel

Excellent advice for shooting the sunset. I'm assuming the actors are watching the sunset so you're cameras are turned on them at some point.

My question is can you shoot actors looking at the sunset in the studio using gels over your lights or doesn't that work very well?
Well...I suppose it would be possible to put gels on the lights that I have access to...the problem is that I don't really have much light to work with. I only have about 500 watts in a single light (as I mentioned earlier, it's pretty low-budget). That might work for that scene.

The difficulty is that four scenes later, in the climax of the film, there is a largish fight sequence split between an outside yard area and a barn interior. The lead for that scene is pushing to shoot it in the afternoon and create the sunset effect in post, but I'm reluctant to do that. It would be so much simpler just to take the time to do it at sunset. The major obstacle to doing such is that we only have about twenty minutes. Any major problems and we're done for the night. These guys aren't too tolerant of the time it takes to set up and tear down each day so I'm guessing I'll have a little trouble convincing them to do an hour makeup session, hour assembly and teardown just for a twenty-minute shoot.

How would you guys do this if it was you in my shoes? I know this is a little more involved than my original question, but I'm a softie at heart and I hate to put my actors out if I can help it.


I can't think of a way a single 500 watt light could ever look like the sunset. The angles would be wrong on the shadows if you shot it at any other time of day. Push for the right shot...If you have time, shot some test footage of both ways and show the actors the difference. It will also help your setup time if you've done a test shot or two.

Boz Uriel

That's really tight though, trying to get the shot in before the sun sets on you. Isn't there a better way? A more controlled way? Maybe two of those halogen work lights (four lights actual) together with orange gels and slowly creep in the red ones followed by the purple ones?

LOL, does anyone know the distance you can safely put a gel over a halogen light? Not that I don't mind wasting a gel to find out but hey, if someone has already done it. ;)
Unfortunately there's no place anywhere around here to get gels. I'd have to order them online (which is, of course, a definite possibility - that's how I've acquired 90% of my equipment).

I'm pushing for the sunset shot. They're all pessimistic about it, but I'm at least going to make them try. In response to your question, "Is there any better way," Boz, there's a way the script could be modified such that it occurs at sunrise instead of sunset (which would, of course, eliminate most of the problems). But, the sunset is decidedly the best thing if we can get it, so I'm at least going to try. Alas, if only the cameras were as good as my own digital camera (that's actually what the sun looked like in real life - a twice-in-a-lifetime sunset!). :(

I'm scheduled to shoot the first of two sunset scenes this Thursday. I'll let you all know how it goes.
Well, we did it. Cranked the exposure down to get a nice silhouette, pointed 'er at the fireball and let it rip. No smoke, and it still captures just fine, so it looks like we got the shot without frying anything.

Unfortunately, we nearly ran out of light. We had some technical difficulties with the sound equipment on-set and that took probably close to 15 minutes to sort out. By then the optimal time was by, but oh well. We got the shot, anyway.

Here's a beautiful shot taken with my Fuji S-5100 by my alpha camerawoman. This is why she's my alpha, not beta.

What it did awaken me to is the fact that we have maybe an hour and a half to get the last sunset scene. It's the climax of the movie - a longish battle between the antagonist and protagonist - so it might be a bit difficult to get without continuity problems. It'll have to be a one-take performance. :)


a longish battle between the antagonist and protagonist - so it might be a bit difficult to get without continuity problems. It'll have to be a one-take performance.
How many cameras do you have?


Nice sunset, btw. That sun is HUGE! :)
Two Samsung MiniDVs. I've also arranged to borrow a Panasonic (or is it a Sony?) C-VHS ot act as a reference shot for later effects. And hey, if anybody is in the Canton area and wants to bring a camera over, I'm sure I could find a place to fit you. :)