At FOTO, we are committed to helping our fellow creatives flourish no matter the season. In our Q&A style blog series, Coffee with Creatives, we highlight the unique expertise of some of our favorite professionals, sharing tips and information on relevant topics to bring you some practical insight and inspiration for the important work you do. Today is no different as we delve into a subject we can all try as we continue to socially distance and appreciate the stillness of time and beauty surrounding us.
We are talking with Click Pro, Libby Grohmann of Blue Eyes and Bokeh, to discuss her secrets on capturing dramatic sunrises/sunsets!
First things first, how do you take your coffee? (And if you are not a coffee drinker, what is your go-to beverage for fuel?)
Libby: This is probably going to go against popular opinion, but I am NOT a coffee drinker. I like the smell, but not the taste. I am, however, a big fan of flavored waters. My favorite is Hint Pineapple water. On occasion I will have a nice cup of chai tea latte. It reminds me of a snickerdoodle cookie at Christmas time.
Tell us a bit about yourself and the story behind your Insta name! What do you like to photograph?
Libby: I am definitely not your typical creative. I am equal parts left brained and right brained. I have a degree in biomedical engineering, and my day job is designing implantable medical devices. I like to say that I'm an engineer by day and a photo enthusiast every moment in between! Photography is my creative outlet from my day job. My favorite thing to photograph is my two little blue-eyed girls. They are my main muses; hence my Insta-name: @blueeyes.and.bokeh. I love me some buttery bokeh, so why not combine my two loves into a name?
Our favorite thing to do as a family is to explore, and I always do it with a camera in hand. When we are out and about, I love to capture the movement and magic in our adventures, and of course the skies. I'm a sucker for a pretty sky.
Oh and I'm a Texan. Everyone should know that about me. Because Texas is awesome.
You have captured some incredible sunsets...what is your favorite thing about shooting a dramatic sky?
Libby: I think of skies as God's art gallery. Dramatic skies are like a beautifully painted canvas and each one is uniquely different. They come in all colors and textures. Beautiful skies sing to my soul. A dark and moody sky can make me feel uneasy and a bright blue puffy cloud sky makes me smile. Even my girls know and understand my love of skies. If they are outside playing and see a cool sky, they are quick to come inside and make sure that I don't miss it. I love that they share that passion with me.
Do you follow weather patterns and the forecast before a planned sunset shoot?
Oh, I definitely do!! I am a type A personality in most aspects of my life and that doesn't change when it comes to monitoring the weather. Not that it really matters, the weather people seem to get it wrong 50% of the time, haha. Alas, I have no shortage of weather apps on my phone and I'll flip between them and see what they all say. The Dark Sky app is a good one because it tells you the amount of cloud coverage predicted. My favorite type of sunset is one with a golden sun and a little bit of cloud coverage to make for a pretty sky!
Any quick tips you can share for shooting during Golden Hour? Anything special or unexpected you bring in your camera bag?
Libby: First and foremost, know your location and know what time the sun will be bright and what time it will disappear. This will help you maximize your shooting time for the prettiest light. I like the magic hour app to help with golden hour timing.
Second, I think that spot metering is key when shooting during golden hour. When I shoot I like to get my photos as good as possible straight out of camera. If I want my subject to be the focus of the image, I spot meter for their skin. If I want to capture a silhouette, I'll meter for the sky. I am not an under-exposer. Underexposing your subject creates muddy images in post, so I find it best to get it right in-camera and then bring back the golden hour sky in post processing. If all else fails with that method, I can always do a sky swap in photoshop. One thing I'm always sure to do during golden hour is to snap a photo of just the sky. This way if I need to replace a blown-out sky in post processing, I have the real sky from that night to use. Plus, it allows me to grow my ever-expanding sky photo collection.
As far as special gear goes, I'm not sure I do anything out of the ordinary. I'm a self-proclaimed gear junkie, so I tend to bring a variety of lenses with me on a shoot, but then at the end of the day I usually just stick to my 85mm or 24mm...bokeh and skies, that's where it's at for me.
I do bring a small folding stool when I remember. I'm pretty short, so having something that raises me 10" off the ground is usually good to have when shooting.
Oh!! I keep a pair of scissors in my camera bag. Maybe that's unexpected? It allows me to cut tall grass or weeds out of the way if I need to, or maybe the occasional stray thread on a dress.
What is the biggest difference in capturing a sunset versus a sunrise?
Libby: Timing. My favorite part of golden hour is the part where the sun is low in the horizon. That means for sunrise you have got to be on top of your game right at the beginning of the shoot. As you shoot through golden hour, the light gets brighter and less attractive, so being on location ready prior to the sun rising is key. For sunset, you have the beginning portion to get warmed up and in your groove. However, you have to make sure not to wear out your subject before the good light starts, haha. With my girls, I always have to make sure that we don't start too early or that they are entertained, otherwise, I'll be left just photographing flowers and skies when the good light arrives.
Now all this said, I'll admit that I photograph way more sunsets than sunrises. Reality is that I like to sleep, so early morning shoots interfere with that a little. I do make it a point however to enjoy at least one sunrise every year when we visit the beach. There is something about the beach at sunrise that is different than sunset. Everything is more calm and at ease. Whenever I do get up for a sunrise shoot, I typically question why I don't photograph sunrises more often, but then I remember the fact that I like sleep.
Do you have a favorite sunset that you've captured? Where were you and what was most beautiful about that moment?
Libby: This is actually a really easy question. I absolutely do. Every year we go to the same area of the Florida panhandle to visit the beach. We always get amazing sunsets and skies while we are there, but a few years ago we got one that is engraved in my brain. It seemed like every few minutes it was changing and each moment was more beautiful than the next. The moonrise was even early that evening, so I got photos of the sunset and the moon together. My girls weren't dressed in anything fancy. They were wearing their bathing suits, but they perfectly coordinated with the colors of the sky that night. You could call that serendipity, but it could also be the fact that pastel sunset colors are my favorite colors, so I tend to buy them clothing in that color scheme. Anyway, the cirrocumulus clouds, the colors, the moment, everything about it was perfect.
What program do you prefer to edit in? Any tools you use the most when it comes to editing sky images?
Libby: I use Adobe Lightroom for 90% of my editing. I'll pull my images into photoshop to crop (I always shoot crooked so the content aware crop tool is my lifesaver), clean up any distractions, add some contrast, or perform any local color corrections, if needed.
The gradient tool and dehaze slider in Lightroom are my go-to tools for skies. The gradient tool is hands down the best tool for bringing back an overexposed sky. After pulling down your gradient, if you check the little auto mask box, you can wipe any darkened portions off of your subject with ease.
And for fun, what Fotostrap do you wear? Favorite thing about it?
Libby: Well, I have a few! My latest and most favorite is a personalized Flora strap (flowers in sunset colors...hello it's soooooo me). The Flora strap replaced a much-loved canvas storyteller Mint one. I love the canvas straps on my Canon DSLR because they are comfortable and sturdy for that beast of a camera. For my smaller Sony mirrorless, I have a personalized skinny leather Rose strap. I have it personalized to say Wander Often | Wonder Always. I love that saying because it represents both sides of me: the creative wanderluster and the always pondering engineer.