A truly great sunset photo requires a good foreground. You know, the parking lot or the neighbor’s house won’t do. Many of us head for the mountains or the sea to watch the sunset and capture the fleeting natural beauty in a photograph.
But the second ingredient in a great sunset photos is the sky. The texture and the reflections of the golden light in the clouds separates the good sunsets from the great ones.
Both the foreground and the amazing clouds came together along the banks of the Snake River on this magical evening in Grand Teton National Park. Mount Moran and the Grand Teton mountain range, although backlit, made a pretty majestic foreground. For scale, notice the tiny boats on the left side.
What can I say about the clouds? As wispy as cotton candy and as vivid as a flame?
My visit to Grand Teton National Park was well timed to coincide with the peak of fall foliage and the moonset as well. For every month, the full moon sets at virtually the same time that the sun rises. That singular morning is a great opportunity to capture the full moon close to the horizon while the sun has only gently lit the scene.
When I’m at home, the moon sets behind my neighbor’s house. The view is not at all comparable to the rugged peak of Mount Moran with fall foliage in the foreground. Traveling out West with a group of photographers gave me a better opportunity and the incentive I needed to wake up in the dark and venture outdoors in the cold.
A large number of photographers gather along the shore of the Snake River at Oxbow Bend to take advantage of the possible reflections of the mountain, the trees and the moon in the water. As the sun rose, fog began to form and the wind blew it across the surface of the water. My fingers and toes turned to ice cubes before we finished the shoot, but the experience was worth it, especially in the company of friends.
Landscape photographers understand that shooting directly into the sun, even at sunset, creates such extremes of brightness and darkness that it is difficult to make a successful image. The foreground falls into shadow, while the sky becomes impossibly bright. What to do?
Photographers planning to shoot sunset in Grand Teton National Park face this challenge every day, because all views of the mountain range face west. While today’s digital software can help brighten the shadows and darken the highlights, it ain’t easy!
One approach is to wait until the critical moment when the sun touches the edge of a tree or a mountain in the foreground. If you set your camera manually to a small f-stop such as f/22, the sunlight will refract and create a brilliant sunstar. I like this technique, as it gives punch to the scene.
Reflections in the beaver pond as well as the V shape of the trees that flank the mountains give this image a peaceful symmetry.
After this capture, I packed up my tripod and camera quickly, for soon it would be dark.