Have you ever been walking down the street and seen the sun coming just over the horizon of a building or a landmark in a really interesting way? Ever wish you were smart enough to bring your camera with you on that day so you wouldn’t miss it. I know the frustration. Over the years, I’ve learned that a moment like that happens maybe once or twice a year (if you’re lucky!). Here’s a little something I do to make sure I never miss it again.
It’s called a sunset calendar. In other words, it’s just like any ordinary calendar, except it tells you exactly when the sun will rise and set to the exact day. As you’re probably aware, the best time to be out and about with your camera are the early morning and sunset hours. The light makes your subjects way more colorful and even toned than any other time of day. Many photographers meticulously plan around these hours because they know they are the best for photography, period.
Here’s the awesome thing. You don’t have to go through the long and laborious process of making a sunset calendar anymore. There are a number of websites you can use to do it for you. Just plug in your location, what you’d like to take note of, and you’ll get a monthly calendar of sunrises and sunsets for your given area.
Try out SunriseSunset.com.
I like to print a two year calendar, hang it to my fridge, and then take notes if I see something interesting. Why two years? Doesn’t that seem like overkill? Not at all, and here’s why. When you drive to work in your morning commute, you might see a scene so beautiful it makes you pause in wonder. And a lot of times you’ll see the sun rise or set over a specific landmark, or in a way that aligns perfectly with something on the ground. If you don’t have your camera to capture it, that scene is lost to the sands of time. Why not take a mental note of when this amazing moment happened so you can catch it the next time the sun is in that location!
Aside from simply telling you when the sun will rise and set, a sunset calendar is the perfect tool for planning your shots. You know the same scene will happen exactly a year from now. It also depends on how far you are away from the solstice. If you’re twenty days after the winter solstice, for example, then you know the exact same scene will also happen twenty days before the winter solstice. Note those two dates on your sunset calendar so you can be sure to plan for that photograph.
You should always note the two different dates because you never know what the weather will do. You might get a cloudy day twenty days before the winter solstice, so that’ll be a no-go. In that case, you’d need to plan for the day that’s exactly one year after you saw your beautiful scene.
Once you’ve mastered the sun, go ahead and shoot for the moon! The same calendar you get from sunrisesunset.com works with the moon. You’ll know when the full moon is out so you can take a peek at it and get inspired. If it takes an interesting arc across the sky, and you missed the shot, never fear. It will be back again. You can’t use the same math you used, for the sun, but the following website is a handy resource.
Also try Time and Date’s Moonrise Calculator.
The best photographs in the world do not happen by chance (okay, some of them do). A very large portion of them are planned out to a ridiculous extent. I encourage you to make your own sunset and moonset calendars. Use them, if nothing else, to motivate you to get outside in the early morning and twilight hours. When you know what’s out there, you’ll be all the more willing to grab your gear, along with a quick breakfast, to capture it. You’ll be thankful you did.
Happy sunset hunting!