Sundown Joshua Tree and Shadow
This image is best viewed large.
In Joshua Tree National Park, located near the community of Twentynine Palms, California, the park's namesake tree is to be found everywhere in the upper reaches of the park.
I saw a photograph many years ago, can't remember where or who the photographer was, of a Joshua tree and rocks at sunset where the tree cast its shadow on a big rock. I scouted around in the park looking for such a setting but where I saw a nice tree and a more or less flat-faced big rock facing the west, the sun angle was not right for the season. This image was the best I could do in my limited time in the park.
While shooting a sunset the light, of course, goes through stages and each stage is must be treated differently by the photographer. The early stage, like this stage where the sky is still blue, are often best captured with a circular polarizer (CP) filter. During later stages, I find the CP just acts like a neutral density filter and reduces the light reaching the camera's sensor. I will often, if I have time, try capturing the scene with and without the CP filter.
On the composition, here is an example where we have a major compositional element and a somewhat spread out minor one. The major element is the Joshua tree and the minor one is the rock pile and shadow of the tree. I shot this tree in several compositions and both horizontally and vertically, but this one looked best to me. I placed the tree just slightly off center horizontally and I centered it vertically. Even though the "Rule of Thirds" is a good general rule, it is not hard and fast, only a guideline and there are images where it does not work best.
I composed this shot so the horizon did not come at the midpoint of the image but a bit higher. Another good general guideline in composition is to not split the image in two with the horizon. There are exceptions to this, but in general it applies.
When you are setup with your camera on the tripod and looking through the viewfinder, keep in mind a list of compositional techniques that fit the scene. When you are a beginner, make a list on a card and review them as you compose the scene. As you gain experienced, these "rules" of composition will become ingrained and you won't have to think mush about them.