This blog is a great tip for when you are out in a new city, it might be 1 o’clock in the afternoon for example, and you want to know where the sun will set. You might be disorientated because you are on new ground and looking up at sky will give you no help because the sun will be near its zenith and offer no clue as to which direction it will head.
I will begin with a science lesson ! haha. So, we should all know from school that the solar system is a flat disc right ?! well it is ! and this means that all the planets lie on a flat plane in space, a bit like cherries on a frisbee. So when you look up into the sky if you know the location of the flat plane where you will find the planets and indeed our sun you could correctly predict the location of the setting sun.
Here let me show you in image form, as it is often easier to remember… you can see how we are all go around the sun like that of a spinning bicycle wheel 🙂 The image is an artists impression of how comets approach our solar system and smash into celestial objects, but the yellow disc represents our solar system with the sun in the centre.
So knowing this, I use an app on my iphone which uses the accelerometer inside it and uses a small amount of data to run, called Star Walk. It was about $5 from the app store when I got it, but is $2.99 now, and has been invaluable to me as I always scout out my locations during the day for which I will be shooting at sunset and the blue hour.
Link to itunes where you can view or download the app (Australian link) for other locations simply search “your country” Star Walk in google
I try to find myself locations where I will be able to get the sun setting in the background behind the main focus of the image. What I also like to do, since I shoot ultra wide angle, is to bring along my camera and take scouting compositions and then later that afternoon I can choose what I think will be best out of the bunch which I might go through on my laptop.
Here are a few examples of Star Walk in action, and the dotted line in the image is the disc I have described to you above. So you simply hold the phone/tablet towards the sun, find the dotted line and follow it towards the horizon. Look behind the phone/tablet at the real scene to see how it fits in with how you are located and walk around trying to find a nice composition. You might look at bit strange doing this, like a crazy person perhaps, and I have certainly got some interesting looks when using it as people are always intrigued by what they don’t understand. Anyways, snap off a few scouting shots on your camera and either move on to the next location or go enjoy the city !
Another example of sun, and the solar system (dotted line) later in the afternoon and the dark area is below the horizon where that part of the planet is in night… you can see how the planets are all along the dotted line and that is because of the flat plane our system is governed under.
I do this because shooting HDR is often best done during sunset, sunrise and the blue hour. Even if you are shooting 1RAW file the light from the midday sun is too harsh and you will get much better results if you return to the location in the afternoon or next morning, so its great for all types of photography.
Hope this was helpful,