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How can you tell WHEN a sunset will be good?

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  • How can you tell WHEN a sunset will be good?

    Hiya all,

    I have a scenic park nearby but it takes me a while to get to. I'd like to take some good sunset pictures there but in order to save wasted time, I want to plan ahead as much as possible.

    From experience, does anyone have any tips on how to tell whether a sunset will be good or not? Say 1-2 hours before sunset? I've figured out that when the clouds are too heavy, you can't see the sun but I haven't been able to figure out much more. Do better sunsets occur in different seasons?

    Furthermore, does anyone have any good links/software to find out exactly which direction the sun will set in?

    I've tried googling on the web for this stuff but wasn't able to find anything.

    Thanks all!
    I would hugely appreciate your comments on my pictures: http://www.flickr.com/photos/scott-lee/
    Body: Canon EOS 450D (Rebel XSi)
    Lenses: Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II; Canon EF-S 17-85mm f/4.0-5.6 IS USM

  • #2
    Usually sun sets in the northern hemisphere, west in the summer and south west in winter but that all depends in what part of the world you are in. Good conditions aslo depent what part of the world you live in. Practice with what you have colose to home ahd then go to your favorite spot. To be well prepared be on the spot a few hours ahead and spot your favorite scenery.
    Martin Barabe
    Canon 7D 15-85mm, 70-200F4L

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/barabe/

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    • #3
      First, a link to help with your sun direction question. The U.S. Navy has a website which gives you everything you will ever need to know about time and azimuth of moon and sun movement...

      Sun or Moon Altitude/Azimuth Table

      Second, tips on when the sun will be good or not. Unfortunately there is no guarantees. There are some cues but they are not always accurate.

      Clouds: Usually there are more interesting skies when there are some clouds at sunset. But usually there are fewer clouds towards sunset. Cumulus clouds generally start forming in late morning, peak in development by mid-afternoon, and then start to dissipate as sunset approaches. High cirrus or stratus clouds stick around longer and they make great colorful "streaks" across the sky. They reflect the colors and make the sky more interesting and colorful.

      As far as predicting color brilliance itself, it usually has a lot to do with particles in the atmosphere. If you want a lot of pink and crisp color lines in the clouds, you will need an atmosphere that is clear with low humidity. If you want the sun to be a hazy, large ball with the brightness a bit "tamed", you need more particles in the air (pollution) and/or high humidity.

      Unfortunately there are no easy answers in determining which sunset will be the best. The best way is to learn for yourself and just get out there consistently to witness it yourself. You start to pick up on clues after awhile.

      But as someone who has taken many sunrise and sunset photos, I can tell you that every sunset is a surprise. Sometimes the one you think is a dud turns out to be brilliant at the VERY last second. Sometimes when you start out to set up and see all the clouds, you think it won't even be visible. Then, all of the sudden, it appears at just the right moment and you are eternally grateful you stuck it out!

      It's nature and God will not be easily understood.
      Landscapes and Light Painting, Nikon and Pentax equipment
      Eagle Vista Studio - Light Painting - Getting Started With Sunrise Photography
      "Anybody can make the simple complicated. Creativity is making the complicated simple." Charlie Mingus

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      • #4
        I agree with navcom - there are no guarantees you will get good color, but you can always help the color along by using filters. The sunset the other day was pretty ordinary, but it looked way more dramatic with a Sunset 2 filter

        The sun also sets
        Pentax K100D, Sigma 70-300mm F4-5.6 Macro Super II, SMC Pentax-DA F3.5-5.6 18-55mm AL, SMC Pentax-M 1:2 50mm, Vivitar 1:2.8 MC Wide Angle 28mm, Pentax 540FGZ, Vivitar 285HV, Cactus wireless trigger and receivers
        Flickr

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        • #5
          Hey, mseigafuse, what filter did you use for that pic?
          Canon EOS Xsi, 18-55 Kit, Canon 75-300, 50mm f1.8

          Clustershot Account

          Daoust's__Flickr__

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          • #6
            I have had many many disappointing sunsets (and sunrises) which I THOUGHT would be cool. It has a lot to do with timing: you want some clouds, but not too many -- so that you have added interest, something to catch the colors, but not to block the sun entirely. One useful hint is to watch for clearing storms around sunset -- they ususally have good clouds.

            My personal favorite sunrise photo happened when I had had trouble sleeping, and got up early to wander around. All of a sudden, the sun rose and looked AMAZING! It was mostly luck -- an important part of photography.
            David Clark Photography, project 365 photo blog, flickr.
            It is OK to edit and repost my photos on the DPS forums only.

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            • #7
              Originally posted by Daoust View Post
              Hey, mseigafuse, what filter did you use for that pic?
              Quantaray P197 - which is actually a Sunset 1 filter (not 2 as I had said).

              Amazon.com: Cokin P197 Filter, P, Sunset 1: Electronics
              Pentax K100D, Sigma 70-300mm F4-5.6 Macro Super II, SMC Pentax-DA F3.5-5.6 18-55mm AL, SMC Pentax-M 1:2 50mm, Vivitar 1:2.8 MC Wide Angle 28mm, Pentax 540FGZ, Vivitar 285HV, Cactus wireless trigger and receivers
              Flickr

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              • #8
                Wow thanks for all your replies guys! In particular, I found navcom's advice a lot more detailed than I expected which is brilliant! I have a lot of homework to do now! If there are any more links to tutorials that anyone can provide, I would be really thankful!

                Regarding sunset filters, should I use these? I can't help but feel that I would be "cheating" if I used this. I want to do what the pros do... do they use them? If so, what sort? graduated ND and ND filters?

                Can someone explain to me how a NON-graduated ND filter works? I know that it blocks out say 4 stops of light but I don't see the point of using it with sunset photography. All it would do is increase the time that the shutter remains open. Can someone elaborate?

                Finally, in terms of exposure time, should I try to under-expose the shot a bit? When I try this, the image looks better but maybe that's just because it looks darker. What do you guys do?

                Thanks for your advice people!!
                Jonathan
                I would hugely appreciate your comments on my pictures: http://www.flickr.com/photos/scott-lee/
                Body: Canon EOS 450D (Rebel XSi)
                Lenses: Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II; Canon EF-S 17-85mm f/4.0-5.6 IS USM

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                • #9
                  Originally posted by dcclark View Post

                  My personal favorite sunrise photo happened when I had had trouble sleeping, and got up early to wander around. All of a sudden, the sun rose and looked AMAZING! It was mostly luck -- an important part of photography.
                  Great image...I think sunrises are underrated and often forgotten about.

                  I don't think you can ever be 100% sure about a sunset/sunrise...but that's all part of it for me, the surprise!

                  Navcom's post hits it all on the head, great info.
                  Last edited by BryanC; 07-08-2009, 08:20 PM.

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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by jsl View Post
                    Regarding sunset filters, should I use these? I can't help but feel that I would be "cheating" if I used this.
                    I can't speak for the "pros", I am not one of them. But, lets say you aren't local ... you've made a cross country journey (or even further) and want to capture the splendor of the scenery ... but alas the sun, clouds, particulates/humidity don't cooperate and you have everything except the spectacular lighting in place. This is a once in a lifetime journey ... do you avoid using a filter because it is cheating? They make these filters for photographers to use while shooting - why not use them? I suspect the "pros" will tell you they do use them - checkout this link for example - B-Y Polarizer

                    If you think filters used on the front of the camera is cheating ... I guess Photoshop is out then too? In my opinion using all the tools available to me to create the best image I can is NOT cheating at all - it is just using all the tools I can

                    Mike
                    Pentax K100D, Sigma 70-300mm F4-5.6 Macro Super II, SMC Pentax-DA F3.5-5.6 18-55mm AL, SMC Pentax-M 1:2 50mm, Vivitar 1:2.8 MC Wide Angle 28mm, Pentax 540FGZ, Vivitar 285HV, Cactus wireless trigger and receivers
                    Flickr

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                    • #11
                      Exposure: I find I usually under-expose by a stop or two depending on the composition. I use ND grads regularly so that plays into it as well.

                      ND filters: non-graduated ND filters act like stopping down your lens. Their most popular use is making the camera require a longer shutter speed to get a proper exposure. A common use for ND filters is getting waterfalls or streams to look silky. It will slow down the camera allowing anything that is moving to blur...all during daylight hours.

                      ND grads: A must for landscape photographers. They act like a normal ND filter but only darken a portion of the image. These are used to "push back" the brighness of the sun or sky so that the foreground isn't under-exposed.

                      Sunset filters: I have a set but I don't use them too often. They work well if they are used sparingly. Too much and it will look fake. As for cheating....well...using this criteria, the use of any filter would constitute cheating as would any post-processing such as dodging/burning in a dark room with film or using Photoshop for digital. It's all relative. If you are a purist, it's cheating. If you are creating art, it's a tool.

                      I tend to fall in the latter camp....it's not cheating to me...it's creating. Photography is like painting; you are creating a scene that expresses what you want to share. With painting, you use oils. With photography, you use light. Painters use different brushes and knives to get the effects they want in their work. Photographers use filters and post-processing to create their art.

                      Painters don't always create photo-realistic images. Sometimes they paint abstract or impressionist images. Many times these are more dramatic than photo-realistic images and invoke more from the image. Photographers sometimes depart from reality to make a point in their work as well. It's all good.
                      Last edited by navcom; 07-08-2009, 08:33 PM.
                      Landscapes and Light Painting, Nikon and Pentax equipment
                      Eagle Vista Studio - Light Painting - Getting Started With Sunrise Photography
                      "Anybody can make the simple complicated. Creativity is making the complicated simple." Charlie Mingus

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                      • #12
                        Here's another free resource for sunrise, and sunset times: Free software for landscape photographers | PhotoNaturalist

                        It can be very difficult to tell an hour or two before if a sunset will be good (even tougher for sunrises), especially if you aren't in the general neighborhood of where you want to shoot it. Where I live, a difference of 10 miles can give you dramatic differences in weather conditions, so a lot of is just luck. One thing that I have noticed though, is that high clouds, especially if there's plenty of space between them often produce great color. When the sun gets low, and illuminates the clouds from below, or bounces between the different layers of clouds, it usually has spectacular effect.
                        [ԯ] marcus
                        photoblog | Facebook | flickr | 5∞ px | G+

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                        • #13
                          Another "filtered" sunset. (Grad filter)

                          Sunset,  Time for crusin'

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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by Elmo View Post
                            Another "filtered" sunset. (Grad filter)
                            Nice shot and sweet looking car
                            Pentax K100D, Sigma 70-300mm F4-5.6 Macro Super II, SMC Pentax-DA F3.5-5.6 18-55mm AL, SMC Pentax-M 1:2 50mm, Vivitar 1:2.8 MC Wide Angle 28mm, Pentax 540FGZ, Vivitar 285HV, Cactus wireless trigger and receivers
                            Flickr

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                            • #15
                              Re: How can you tell WHEN a sunset will be good?

                              To get a good photo of a sunset is half studying the sky an hour before and half GOOD LUCK. A good and colorful Sunset begins with, a good quantity of various formation of clouds. You can check this looking at the sky 1-1/2 before the sunset. Remember to check your local weather info for the exact sunset on your location. But that's not all, be sure at the moment of the shot that the clouds are located on top of the sun, not in front of it, so you can take the shot with the sun in the scene.
                              The last, but not least important, remember to shoot in RAW. In the post processing you can saturate a little or add a filter effect to "impact" your image, but with one thing in mind: "Less is More"

                              Here you have an example of a sunset photo captured at Puerto Rico. One interesting thing, is that I took it on the east side of the Island (Fajardo, PR) with the objective at the west, of course. So, no matter where you at, your results can be stunning.



                              Canon XTI in RAW mode
                              28-135 IS USM

                              I hope this could help.

                              pppphotography@gmail.com

                              Flickr: PPP Photography's Photostream

                              ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                              Canon XTI & BG-E3, Canon 5DMKII & BG-E6
                              18-55mm 3.5-5.6 / 50mm 1.8 / 28-135 IS USM / 70-300mm IS USM / 70-200mm 2.8L IS USM
                              430EZ Speedlite / 550EX Speedlite / (2)580EX II Speedlite / ST-E2 Transmitter
                              Last edited by pppphotography; 07-10-2009, 03:03 PM. Reason: More info

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