Captiva Sunset and Twilight

Captiva Island, Florida

Palm Frond

Sunset Palms
Captiva Island is located in the Gulf of Mexico, on the west side of the Florida peninsula. Sanibel and Captiva are similar islands, with Sanibel being larger and famous for the Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge (a bird photographer's paradise in season). For more information on Captiva, visit

These islands experience a nightly sunset display that draws visitors onto the normally-empty beach where they greet their neighbors and enjoy the show. While it's tempting to photograph the magnificent colors, the clouds and the water, even the best sunsets still do not make a great image by themselves -- such photos are far too common and lack interest. Instead, use the sunset as a backdrop for a foreground scene. Or turn around and capture your subject glowing gorgeous in the diffused and colorful sunset light. The photographs on this page illustrate just a few of the countless possibilities for sunset, twilight, and sunrise.

Big Sun Dips toward the Horizon

Fishing in the Gulf

Sunset Sailboat

Red Wine Afterglow
Usually the clouds can be relied upon to make the Captiva sunset dramatic, and you'll get a good exposure by spot-metering on the clouds (without the sun in the frame). My favorite effect is the sun underlighting a banquet of overhead clouds - you'll need ultra-wide-angle to capture this along with foreground subjects (people or herons on the beach).

Occasionally the skies are clear at sundown, this usually means a lack of interest and few deep colors in the sky. Use a long telephoto to capture the sun just as it descends behind the horizon. (Be very cautious looking through your viewfinder at the sun, especially with higher magnification telephoto lenses. This should only be attempted right as the sun approaches the horizon (and the light diminishes in strength). Don't look directly at the sun in your viewfinder, compose very quickly, then move your eye away from the viewfinder. Consider using Live View to save your eyes, but be aware you could scorch (that is, ruin) your sensor if the sun is still strong and you leave the shutter open. Sometimes there are distant clouds that aren't visible until silhouetted by the sun's disk. And maybe you'll be lucky enough to photograph a green flash right after the sun winks out.

Seaoats Silhouette

Sunset Reflections in the Waves

Seaoats in the Afterglow

Great Blue Heron Ballet. Play this simple slide sequence (no sound) in a pop-up window. What is this GBH doing? Perhaps contemplating nabbing a little dinner from the water hazard of Captiva's golf course as sunset approaches.

Twilight's Color Mix

Beachfront Pool

Late twilight skies appear nearly dark to the eye, as stars begin to appear. But they can be rendered an incredible deep blue using a long exposure. The 30-second exposure (right) was made exactly 40 minutes after the last tip of the sun dipped under the Gulf of Mexico horizon (46 minutes after the golf course shot above was made). Such long exposures are great for unmoving subjects, but the breeze moving the palm fronds might render them a smeared silhouette against the blue sky.

I wanted to freeze the palm fronds and bring out detail in their texture (rather than a pure silhouette). To do this I hand held a pair of hot-shoe flashes and fired them at the palms, in particular the small one in the center. The flashes were set to maximum power and narrow angle, manually fired using the test button as I moved about the scene. As long as I didn't let the flash leak any light back toward the camera, I was able to run around and selectively light up objects for as long as the shutter stayed open. Because I stayed in the dark areas and didn't stand still for long, the camera didn't record me in the scene. Canon EOS 10D, 24-70L at 24mm, 30 seconds at f/8, no filters. Two Canon 550EX battery flash units, maximum power (1:1), 105mm coverage angle, hand fired.

Late Twilight Opportunities

Twilight Pool with Flashes

Pool lit with hand-flash and tea candles

The deepest blue skies found just before dark descends can be used to add excitement to artificially-lit scenes. This is one of my favorite techniques: photograph a building, pool, or other illuminated subject just as the last light is fading and the stars begin to appear. Use long exposures, possibly bracket, and shoot many frames because the light changes rapidly. My digital camera LCD will preview a pretty blue sky well after the sky is actually too dark for a good shot, and I usually discard these.

Holiday Lights
In the absence of artificially-lit subjects, you can try the battery-powered flash technique discussed above. The pool shot (above left) was made by firing flashes into the water, pointing away from the camera (mostly). This was necessary because the pool underwater light was burned out, but it resulted perhaps in more even and controlled lighting of the pool. Again a 30-second exposure, my assistant and I walked down each side of the pool squeezing off wide-angle flashes into the water until the shutter closed. We did this over and over (gradually opening the aperture as the light in the sky faded).

The expected result is that at least one of the frames will have the right balance of night sky plus evenly-spread (flash) light in the pool. You can see leakage from the flash as a series of lights along the left side of the pool. Originally I regarded this an error, but the spacing and uniform brightness of the flashes resemble some elegant installed lighting so I prefer this over the "cleaner" shots. Canon EOS 10D, 14mm, 30 seconds at f/13, no filters. Two Canon 550EX battery flash units, half power (1:2), 24mm coverage angle, hand fired.

After full dark you can still shoot with high-ISO digital... something that was nearly impossible with fine-grain film. The sailboat above right was captured at ISO-1600, with the only lighting from the holiday lights on board.

Dawn Pool

Dawn Pool

Sunrise is similar to sunset in photo technique. Typically sunsets are more dramatic because afternoon-evening conditions create more clouds to light up in the sunset colors. But on the islands, the opposite can be true and it's impossible to predict what you'll get either time. This time, I found colorful clouds out over the water and deep blue sky directly overhead -- you can see the blue light on the deck and furniture.

The camera is mounted on a low tripod (legs fully splayed) right on the edge of the pool (part of which I later cropped). When making the image, I attempted to smooth out some of the waves in the pool and improve the reflection by taking a longer exposure. Canon EOS 10D, 24-70mm at 24mm, 1/2 second at f/22, no filters.

Updated 20-aug-11   Contents copyright © 2001 - 2011 PhotoCentric.Net, All Rights Reserved