For years one of my favorite types of photos to take at Milford Lake during our annual family vacation is that of a setting sun. Unlike most other shots that one can create during a weekend getaway out in nature, there’s a temporal quality to sunset shots like this–something that you just can’t capture save for a fleeting moment at the end of day and, perhaps, in the early morning if one is so inclined. Each year my sunset pics look a bit different, and while I wouldn’t go so far as to say that this year’s is better than the rest, it definitely shows evidence of refinement based on what I have done before.
I kept things real simple here in terms of gear: Nikon D750, 50mm lens (yes, the same lens that this blog is named after) and 10-stop ND filter. The camera itself was incidental; one could get almost the same shot with any cheap Nikon or Canon from Walmart. Full frame is not required to get a good sunset shot like this. The most important factors here were weather and composition: the former was basically just happenstance and entirely out of my control, but the latter involved understanding where to place the setting sun and the horizon within the frame and only comes with lots of experimentation, self-reflection, and looking at similar shots from other photographers. I have learned over the years that I enjoy sunsets the most when the sun itself is off-center, roughly along one of the vertical third lines, and the horizon roughly bisects the image. Too much foreground or too much sky tends to have a reductive effect on the photo as a whole, and my favorite sunset shots generally end up with more or less equal parts foreground and background.
There’s also two other fun elements in this shot that I just enjoy capturing: a silky-smooth lake surface and the brilliant starburst emanating from the setting sun. The former requires a long exposure (hence the 10-stop ND filter) and the latter requires a small aperture and good timing. If the sun is too high or too low you won’t get the points of light, and neither will they appear if your aperture is too wide which is why mobile phones can’t get shots like this. They are stuck at a fixed aperture usually between f/1.8 and f/2.2.
The result is a sunset shot that I am proud of, and one that does a good job of showing the natural beauty of Milford Lake—and hopefully helps show why I enjoy going there so much with my family each year.