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  1. #1
    jsl
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    Default 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/
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  2. #2
    barabe's Avatar
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    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
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  3. #3
    navcom's Avatar
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    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.
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  4. #4
    mseigafuse's Avatar
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    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
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    Daoust's Avatar
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    Hey, mseigafuse, what filter did you use for that pic?
    Canon EOS Xsi, 18-55 Kit, Canon 75-300, 50mm f1.8

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    dcclark's Avatar
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    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.
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  7. #7
    mseigafuse's Avatar
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    Quote 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
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  8. #8
    jsl
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    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

  9. #9
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    Quote 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 at 08:20 PM.

  10. #10
    mseigafuse's Avatar
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    Quote 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
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