Colored Glow Effect


Today’s Question: Can you explain how you created the sunset photo from the Palouse that you shared on Instagram? In particular, what enabled you to capture the strong orange glow effect?

Tim’s Quick Answer: The orange glow effect was caused by dust and haze in the sky being backlit by the sun just before sunset, using a long lens to isolate a portion of the scene near the sun, but without the sun in the frame.

More Detail: The photo in question was captured in the Palouse region of eastern Washington State, where I lead photo workshops each June. You can view the photo on my Instagram feed here (

There are several factors that make such a photo possible. The first is to have relatively clear skies, so that there will be strong sunlight close to sunset. However, it is beneficial to have dust or haze in the atmosphere, which help to create the strong color effect you can see in the photo.

As the sun gets relatively close to the horizon, the dust and haze will get backlit, and will generally be illuminated with a strong glow of yellow or orange. It can be helpful to be at an elevated position, so you’re able to include a view of the landscape in the photo. In this case, for example, I was photographing from atop Steptoe Butte, which put me about one thousand feet above the surrounding landscape.

To frame up the scene I used a long lens (an effective focal length of 568mm in this case, with a 355mm lens focal length on a camera with a 1.6X cropping factor). I point the lens in the direction of the sun, but without including the sun in the frame. In this case the sun was positioned a bit outside the top-left corner of the frame.

With hazy conditions it can be difficult for the camera to achieve autofocus. I will often point the camera at a relatively high contrast area of the frame to help the autofocus, or I’ll resort to manual focus if necessary.

The overall exposure is generally close to what the camera’s meter indicates. In this case I exposed one-half stop darker than the meter suggested, using the evaluative (matrix) metering mode.

The sun and atmosphere really did all of the work for this photo, with very little adjustment applied in post-processing.