Last Sunday the weather was looking good for the evening and I had looked up a location that would give me a nice foreground, in this case a large building. I think planning your shot is half the fun and that's something I really enjoy doing. When planning my shot I usually use Google Maps and tools like The Photographer's Ephemeris. Other useful tools are planetarium software like Stellarium
Always be careful when shooting the Sun since its so bright, you could damage your eyes. Never look straight into the Sun through your camera. Regarding filters, this sunset was quite cloudy so I didn't need any filters, otherwise you could use a ND-filter to dim the Sun.
As soon as I arrive on the location I've planned, I start by checking the surroundings to see what I can work with regarding foregrounds etc. I also double check that I'm in a spot where the Sun or the Moon will pass behind the planed distant object. Then I usually start off by taking some wide angle shots while the Sun is above the horizon and I got some really nice a warm light.
Here's a shot showing lake Storsjön and you can see the building to the right of the Sun. Above the Sun you can see a faint Sun pillar.
|Nikon D810A, 1/250 sec. ISO 200, 70 mm f/8|
As the Sun gets closer to the horizon I switch to a longer focal length to really get up close with the Sun. In this case I was shooting at a focal length of 1,200 mm. Quite extreme but in that way you get a much more dramatic scene. The building was located 13 km away from me at the time.
|Nikon D810A, 1/2000 sec. ISO 400, 1200 mm f/11|
In the shot above you can see two sunspots on the solar disc. Both these sunspots are about the same size as the Earth's diameter. As you can see the clouds can sometimes work with you adding a lot of drama to the scene. The sky above the Sun looks much better with this thin layer of clouds that it would have done without them. But I would have preferred not having the lower thicker clouds to get a cleaner solar disc, but they also adds a bit of drama.
Later on the Sun passed behind the building as planned.
|Nikon D810A, 1/500 sec. ISO 400, 1200 mm f/11|
The image above is a panoramic image of three shots. I did that to get the reflections of the Sun in the water. You should always be alert to whats happening in the scene regarding light, reflections or shadows. For just a brief moment there could be something that you don't want to miss.
So, how close will you get with a focal length of 1,200 mm? Here's a 100% crop from a photo I took later on.
|Nikon D810A, 1/500 sec. ISO 400, 1200 mm f/8|
As you can see a really long focal length can create some dramatic shots but it's also really hard to get sharp shots. When you enlarge a scene using a longer focal length, you also enlarge all the errors. So if you have lots of turbulence in the air you will have a hard time getting a sharp image. In this case I was shooting over water and that usually gives a much sharper image due to stable air.
So, keep shooting those sunsets, it's not cliche, it's so much fun and excitement.
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