We arrived at Naples Pier about 10 minutes before sunset. My friend Marjorie warned me, “It’s going to go fast,” and she was right. We needed to pick a spot for a sunset photo quickly among scores of others who were on the beach for the very same reason, to witness the sunset and preserve the memories with photography.
I realized that the sun was going to slip behind the pavilions at the end of the pier, creating an opportunity to photograph the sun as a sunstar with rays. When the sun or other bright light source is clipped by a foreground object, you can create this type of image by stopping your lens down to f/16. (This assumes you know how to manually set your camera!) If not, no worries. Just enjoy this image of a beautiful end of an equally beautiful day.
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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.
If I hadn’t shot this image myself, I would guess it’s location is Hawaii. But that guess would be way off — across a continent. The stark remains of this tree were found eroding along the shore on Lover’s Key in southwest Florida. It’s on protected lands where development has not been permitted, and Nature continues to tell stories.
As the sunstar records this fleeting moment, I am reminded that soon it will be dark, and I’d better hike back.
Every sunrise is a blessing, but when you rise at 3 am and press onward to the rim of a high-altitude volcano, and you are not socked in by clouds, that’s a special blessing. Surely, we were grateful that the skies were clear on this chilly morning in Maui last month.
The sun peaked over the distant clouds and began to illuminate the desolate landscape in the crater. Capturing the moment with a small aperture (f/22) on a fine lens (Nikon 14-24), I was able to bring home an image of a sunstar.
When you are going to shoot a sunset, the first thing you have to do is choose your position. In Naples, Florida last evening, I surveyed the mostly clear sky, the flat horizon of the Gulf of Mexico, the crowd of sunset spectators on the beach and looked for some type of foreground that would add interest to the composition. I spotted a low palm tree and thought that I might use the palm fronds to create a sunstar and to add interest to what might otherwise be a view that was too plain. Do you think this works?
If I did not have water or distant land forms for a simple horizon, I would be looking for ways to simplify — not add interest — to the horizon. Every sunset is different: every location, foreground, every cloud formation, every day. While you may have an idea that there will or will not be clouds to reflect the orange and pink hues of the sunset, it is hard to know for sure. It is also hard to determine if there are or are not clouds right on the horizon, as you typically cannot see them until the sun (or moon) intersects with them. Will there be a green flash, only visible when no clouds block the sun’s last seconds above the horizon? As experienced as you get, it is nearly impossible to predict what the day’s sunset will bring.
My equipment: Nikon D800, Nikon 24-70mm lens, Nikon circular polarizer, Singh-Ray reverse graduated two-stop filter, Really Right Stuff tripod and ball head.