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Sunset at Cunningham Cabin

Whenever I go to the Tetons, I always try to visit Cunningham Cabin.  It seems like I generally have much better luck with sunrises than sunsets in the Tetons, but I always try to get to Cunningham Cabin for at least one sunset.

ISO 100, 35mm, F/16 @ 1/15 second

Now, I'm always a fan of the sunstars, so when I can, I usually include them.  If you want to get a nice sunstar all you have to do is shoot at a lower aperture, like F/16 or lower.  Then once you've got your aperture selected, wait for the sun to just touch the horizon.  Once it first hits the horizon you only have a matter of a couple of minutes before the ability to get that sunstar is gone.

In the old days, I used to take bracketed photos of a scene like this.  What I mean is, I would take a photo that exposes for the foreground, then I would take a photo that exposes for the background, then I would blend them together in Photoshop.  This is the same effect you would get if you were using a Graduated Neutral Density Filter in the field.  

Over the last year and a half or so I've had with my Sony A7R, I began to notice that I could just take one shot and the sensor in that camera captures so much detail, that I can pull all of the detail I need out of one picture.

I processed this image in Lightroom then jumped into On1's Perfect Effects to finish it off.  Images like this benefit greatly from the "Golden Hour Enhancer" plugin found in On1's Perfect Effect Suite.  After applying that preset, I added another one of their presets for a vignette, "Big Softy".  "Big Softy" is by far my favorite preset for a vignette, however it was a little too strong for my taste on this image.  That's ok though, because I have the ability to dial down the opacity of each preset...just like you would do in Photoshop.

The image was made with my Sony A7R, LA-EA4 Lens Adapter and Tamron 24-70mm Lens. 

Sun stars...How? Why?

A question that came up recently was about how to obtain a sun star when your including the sun in your composition.  While the short answer is use a small aperture, like F/16-F/22, I wanted to attempt to explain why that helps...

The above photo was taken at DeSoto Falls near Mentone, AL at sunrise.  I shot this with a very small aperture, like mentioned.  This one was at an aperture of F/22.

How?

These are the short answers...Use a small aperture and this is much easier achieved at a wider angle.

Why?

This happens because of light "bending" around the aperture blades of your lens.  This is where knowing your lens comes in super handy!  How many "points" you obtain coming off of your sun star depends on how many aperture blades your lens has.  If your lens has an odd number of aperture blades, like 7 or 9, your lens will double that and you should end up with a 14 or 18 point star.  If your lens has an even number of aperture blades, like 6, then your lens will yield a star with the same number of points as you have aperture blades.  So a lens with 6 aperture blades will give you a star with 6 main points on your star...there are chances that those "points" may be split, but there will still be 6 main points.

The image above was taken with my Tamron 24-70mm F/2.8 Di VC USD Lens, which has 9 aperture blades.  If there was a full star there, and it wasn't partially blocked, you would see 18 points on that star.  For the record, I enlarged the image and I was able to count about 13 that were unobstructed.

Thanks to depth of field, using a smaller aperture allows you to pick up much sharper, well defined points of the star, which is why F/16-F/22 is usually recommended.

If you want a full sun star, then you would not want the sun obstructed, or diffracted, by anything.  However, these stars are typically much more interesting in compositions when the sun is diffracted by something like the horizon of the earth, a mountain, trees, etc.

Hearing that a small aperture creates a nice star burst, I would not suggest you try this at say, F/32.  The main reason I wouldn't suggest that is most lenses aren't at their very sharpest point at that small of an aperture (remember that a large depth of field will mean everything is in focus, not that everything will be at it's sharpest).  This, of course, is based on your lens.  The more experience you have with a particular lens, the more you will learn things like its' sharpest aperture...that comes with field time.