23 October 2012

The Perfect Sunset Photo

I love sunsets. I’m one of those peculiar people who can quite happily sit on a beach, balcony or boat and do nothing but watch the sun slowly sink below the horizon. I love watching the colours shift and refract in the clouds, and I love that no two are ever the same.

Darwin does an awesome sunset. It’s part of the reason I love this city so much. When I’m not run off my feet with rehearsals or church or God knows what else, I’ll quite often just take myself down to the beach or to the Nightcliff jetty and watch the sunset while I think, pray or complain about the day I’ve just had. And I’m usually not alone. There’s always at least one photographer out with gadgets ranging from a simple hand held digital camera to an SLR on a tripod with a lens longer than his arm and three different kinds of light meters.

They do get some good ones. I’ve seen professionally produced photos on sale around the city from time to time and some of them are spectacular. But there’s something that leaves me a little restless about the amount of time that goes in to capturing the “perfect sunset” and putting it on a page for sale, when we can just sit and watch it for free every night.

The other interesting thing about sunset photography is that there actually isn’t any such thing as the perfect sunset photo. Anyone who’s ever stood on the beach and taken some quick snaps will tell you there’s always a better colour, light, cloud or reflection just when you thought you’d got the shot you wanted. I took a traveller down to Mindil Beach the other night to watch the sunset, and laughed as she stood up every five minutes to take another photo. I was a bit concerned for her, because I’ve seen these symptoms before: It starts out simply enough with a few happy snaps from your holiday. The next thing you know you’ve bought a fifteen hundred dollar camera off the internet and can spend entire Sunday afternoons talking about nothing except the effect on memory size of different shutter speeds at higher resolutions.

I took to her to talk to one of the professionals at the markets for some therapy and to ask about her collection of sunset efforts. Some of them were just stunning. She’d been working as a professional photographer in the Top End for four years, and we asked her which one of her photos she thought was perfect.

“None of them,” was her answer. “I keep trying, but there’s always something more you can improve. The light, the focus, the reflections; there’s just so much going on.”

At the risk of over romanticising it, I think there’s a lesson to be learnt from the plight of the sunset photographer. You could spend your whole life out there waiting for the perfect moment, for the perfect photo. But if experience is anything to go by, you’re never going to find it. You can work your whole life trying to capture it on film and end up with terabytes of photos which are almost perfect. Or you can sit and enjoy it, and end up with a head full of memories which are absolutely flawless.

Say cheese.

Garry with 2 Rs
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