How to Nail a Sunset Photo using a Night Photographer’s Trick

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1080 457 BENRO FILTERS | USA
Sunsets move quickly. Changes in light intensity, quality and clouds can make one moment breathtaking and the next… meh.
I was shooting on the tundra of Rocky Mountain National Park‘s alpine region and had a “What if?” moment.
I asked myself, ” What if I use the High ISO Test from night photography to speed up the process of testing exposure and composition?”
For those of you who aren’t into night photography, this is simply that any exposure made at ISO 6400 in seconds becomes minutes at ISO 100. For instance, a 6-second exposure at Iso 6400 is 6 minutes at ISO 100. Nifty, right?
I didn’t want to miss a moment of the sunset, and the light was fading fast. The moments of deepest saturation were fading away in front of my eyes.
But good news! I was quickly able to make sure I had the right amount of light, filter placement and exposure to nail the shot before the scene desaturated and the light levels dropped too much for a dramatic ND filter shot.

How I Got the Shot: 

First, I mounted the Benro 150mm Filter holder with a step-down ring to fit my Sigma 35mm f/1.4 ART lens. I was using 150mm filters on a Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 lens for other shot at night, so I had the kit with me.
 
Fig. 1 – My setup
1/320 sec at f/5.6, ISO 6400 with Nikon D750 and Sigma 35mm f/1.4 ART Lens
I already had the Circular Polarizer mounted in the holder, and didn’t want to lose the light while I swapped it out, so I considered it just a little more neutral density to extend the exposure time since I was pointing directly into the light source.
Next, I ramped up my ISO to 6400 and exposed for the foreground (ignoring the sky).
 
Rocky Mountain National Park
Fig. 1 – Exposing for foreground
1/320 sec at f/5.6, ISO 6400 with Nikon D750 and Sigma 35mm f/1.4 ART Lens
Next, I slid in the Benro Master 150x170mm 2-stop (GND4 0.6) Hard-edge Graduated Neutral Density Filter into the second slot and popped a couple shots at 1/320 sec until it was positioned just right.
 
Benro Master 150x170mm 2-stop (GND4 0.6) Hard-edge Graduated Neutral Density Filter
Fig. 2 – Adding 2-stop Graduated ND Filter, not quite right yet
1/320 sec at f/5.6, ISO 6400 with Nikon D750 and Sigma 35mm f/1.4 ART Lens
Fig. 3 – Correctly-positioned 2-stop Graduated ND Filter
1/320 sec at f/5.6, ISO 6400 with Nikon D750 and Sigma 35mm f/1.4 ART Lens
Once I knew I was ready to commit to the shot, I slid a Benro Master 150x150mm 8-stop (ND256 2.4) Solid Neutral Density Filter into the third slot.
I then dropped my ISO down to 100 and took a 30-second shot just to check for long exposure noise (knowing the photo would be underexposed). I didn’t want to waste time, as the light was changing rapidly.
Fig. 4 – Adding 8-stop ND Filter + Dropping ISO to check for Long Exposure Noise
30 sec at f/5.6, ISO 100 with Nikon D750 and Sigma 35mm f/1.4 ART Lens
Satisfied that I wasn’t getting long exposure noise at 30 seconds (it was cold at 12,000 feet, even in September!)
I added some time to the exposure because the light was decreasing at this point. And when that happens, it happens fast.
So I set my exposure time to Bulb and intervalometer to 3 minutes and let it rip.
Fig. 5 – Putting it all together
3 minutes at f/5.6, ISO 100 with Nikon D750 and Sigma 35mm f/1.4 ART Lens
Exactly what I hoped would happen occurred. A car came around the bend near Rock Cut (whose parking lot I was standing in) and created a beautiful light streak leading towards the other parked car, giving the illusion that one created the other. 
Plus, the clouds’ movement was just long enough to create the passage of time, but not obliterate the beauty of the sun over the horizon.

Wrapping up

I wish I could attribute this quote, but for the life of me, I cannot find the source. It affected me deeply, and was the email signature from a gentleman from TED talks,
“You can only connect the dots you collect.”

It’s good the night photographer in me speaks with the daytime photographer.

I saved precious time by testing exposure at ISO 6400, instead of waiting to see if my exposures were good at ISO 100.

Combining filters to achieve a balanced dynamic range in-camera is exactly why we use filters.

Not only do filters cut down on editing time, but they also allow for images otherwise not possible.

Your turn

We’d love to see what you do with your Benro filters. Please leave us a comment below with your successes, questions and creative applications of this idea.
How did using the High ISO Test help save you time? Let us know!
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Post-processing notes

  • Adobe Lightroom Classic
  • No global adjustments
  • Graduated Filter (Sky) with luminance range mask, Exposure -0.19 Dehaze +20
  • Graduated Filter (Foreground) with luminance range mask, Highlights +30, Shadows +52, Whites +19, Dehaze +17
  • Crop

Gear used in this post:

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