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A Photographer Who Isn’t a Fan of Sunsets

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A sunset over Aosta Valley, Italy

This post was originally published in March 2015. We’re resurfacing it as part of our #ThrowbackThursday effort to give some love to our favorite posts.—The Proof Team

Photographer Stefano Unterthiner recently posted a photo of a sunset on Instagram with this caption: “I’m not a big fan of sunsets, but yesterday evening was very special! The sky above my home in #Italy #valledaosta.” The reaction was mixed.

The photo received over 400,000 likes, but many of the thousands of comments on the image called him out on his proclaimed disdain for the setting of our solar system’s trusty star.

A photo posted by National Geographic (@natgeo) on

Here are some examples:

“Don’t be dumb. Everyone loves a good sunset.”

“Usually not a big fan of sunsets, said no one ever except for this guy.”

“That’s like not liking the Beatles …”

“I bet you’re not a fan of many things.”

“Grrrrrr this sunset is making me so angry, puppies, newborns, and kittens are all the same …”

“wtf???”

Unterthiner wanted to explain himself, explain why he chose to post that particular image. “I was amazed by the shape of the clouds and the blue spot on the right corner. It was a balance of dark color, shape, and composition.”

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Whooper swans at dusk, Hokkaido, Japan

He’s not a beauty hater. In fact, he enjoys witnessing the sun sink beneath the horizon. “On the beach with my wife with a beer in my hand, I’m a lover of sunsets,” he says to me over the phone. But as a photographer, he’s looking for something more complex. “Sunsets are boring because everyone is taking photos of the sky getting red when the sun approaches the horizon. A very classic sunset is very far from photography—it’s very close to our memories and our pictures on holiday. It belongs more to your daily life than real photography.”

“As a photographer I always try to have a new view. I’m looking for something which is not just about color. Color can be part of the composition but not the most important part. I’m not taking a picture of the sky just because it’s red.”

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A sunset during a snowfall in Aosta Valley, Italy

So his goal is to use the changing light from the hours around sunrise or sunset to create images that are layered and unique. I asked him to explain what he’s looking for during those special hours.

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Blue light before dusk at Bird Island, Seychelles

Blue light is the first example he gave. “Blue light was very popular in Impressionist painting. They loved the blue light because it’s kind of magic, after sunset or before sunrise. It’s a kind of light without light, something between the night and the day. This particularly post-sunset light is much more interesting than the traditional sunset,” he says.

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King penguins under a full moon at dusk, Possession Island, Crozet archipelago

Unterthiner also tries to include a subject other than the sunset in his images. For instance, animals.

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A brown bear in the mist before sunrise, Vartius, Finland Photograph by Stefano Unterthiner

Another thing he wants to capture? Mood. “As the sun approaches the horizon, the light becomes more warm. So at this time, looking around, not directly at the sun, forgetting about the sunset, the light can play a role in making the images more interesting. The light becomes warm and magical. It’s not about a classical sunset, but it’s about how the light can help to create a special mood.”

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A guanaco and clouds after a sunrise, Torres del Paine National Park, Chile

And finally, Unterthiner likes to play with contrast. “The last light before the sun sets, even before the blue light, is the light that you can play with to try to make some dark images. The bright light is in front of you, and everything you put against that bright light you can play with to make a silhouette. I’m shooting in color, but I really like black and white, and you can still photograph in color and get these kinds of black-and-white images. These kinds of images are always between something, before or after sunset.”

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Whooper swans at sunset, Hokkaido, Japan

I asked Unterthiner for one last piece of advice to share with people interested in photographing sunsets. “Look at the sunsets you’ve shot before, and try to make a different one next time. It can be a nice memory to shoot the sunset in a different way. Don’t make the same picture all the time,” he says. And if that doesn’t work? “If you take a picture that looks similar to the last picture of a sunset you took, it’s better that you watch the sunset and put your camera in your bag.”

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Two wandering albatross at sunset, Possession Island, Crozet archipelago

*****

See more of Stefano Unterthiner’s work on his website, and follow him on Instagram.


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