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This time of year, besides trying to figure out how to take pictures on gray days, I also like to start planning for when the sun will come out. Beyond the Vitamin D benefits, I enjoy sunset photos from a few local beaches spread around the Puget Sound. This year I’m creating a sunrise/sunset calendar, something that I’ve kept in my mind but never put down on paper (or the internet, where my copy will reside).
The concept is simple and works well for those further from the equator. Sorry everyone in the lower latitudes, the sun doesn’t move that far North to South for you to worry about this too much. For those of us from about the 10th parallel all the way to either Pole, this trick should be handy for making the most of your sunset photo time.
You will need a calendar. If you like the online version, here’s one for you for 2011 in ICS version. The idea is to number all the dates on both sides of the Summer Solstice or Winter Solstice equally. I start at the 21st of June and make that zero. From there, each day forward and back, is given a sequential number. Because of the number of days in a year, the calendar will have to be redrawn, slightly, each year except leap year.
The idea is to note where the sun sets on a given day, say the Vernal Equinox, to make life easy. Where I live, up by the 48th parallel, there is a mountain range across from Seattle known as the Olympics. All year long the sun marches left to right in its sunsets. When I mark on the calendar where the sun sets that day (maybe over Mt. Jefferson, for example) and check the calendar number, in this case 93, then I know that on the corresponding date in the Fall, the sun will be in the same position. This just happens to be a few hours before the day of the Autumnal Equinox, again, making life easy.
Armed with this calendar or a simple printed version, it is easy to plan ahead. This is handy if you are not able to shoot a sunrise or sunset on a given day or know of a better angle than the one you currently occupy. My first memory of this calendar idea was seeing a photo of the sun beaming down a street in New York City. The caption noted the photographer had seen that same view the year before and made a note to bring their camera to work in a highrise on the same day the next year. Maybe you notice the sun rising from under a bridge on your way to work or setting perfectly over a lake but can’t stop to take a shot. Make a note to revisit the missed photo on the other side of the Solstice.
I hope this simple trick helps you record, and enjoy, more great days outdoors with your camera. It can certainly have many uses beyond sunrises and sunsets and I’d love to hear of unique applications of the idea.