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By now, you’ve heard me going on and on about shooting at the right time of day: during the golden and blue hours right around sunset and sunrise! But how do you determine whether the place you want to shoot is a sunrise or sunset spot?
Especially when you’re travelling in places you’re completely unfamiliar with and moving around time zones, it can be difficult figuring out what time of day is best for photography.
That is why I use a nifty website called The Photographer’s Ephemeris to find out everything I need to know about sunrise, sunset, heck even moonset and moonrise in a location. The browser app is so good, that it even tells you the times of the different twilights (which are called astronomical, nautical and civil twilights) and maybe most importantly, the angle at which the sun is setting or rising.
Looking at the example of horseshoe bend, one can see that the sun is setting a bit to the side of the bend, basically the direction a photographer would be shooting, but sunrise would be at the photographer’s back.
Determining Sunrise and Sunset Locations
When determining whether you should show up at sunrise or sunset (or both!), ask yourself the following questions:
- Do I want the sun in my shot? Lens flares are a big problem when shooting straight into a sunset, but if you get it just right, you might be able to star the sun nicely. Try to shoot it with a lens that has an uneven number of aperture blades, which doubles the number of rays your sun exhibits. As you can see, due to the sheer size of the bend, I had to resort to my 10-20mm super wide (6 blades), which didn’t exactly star the sun nicely.
- Do I want to capture the dramatic colour in the sky? Often, the sky and the clouds are most colourful opposite where the sun sets or rises. In the spot where the sun dips behind the horizon, the sky will be an overexposed white until it gets almost too dark to shoot (and vice versa in the morning). So in this example of the Horseshoe Bend, I had a better chance of capturing a dramatic sky over the bend at sunrise.
- Do I want to be completely alone at a location? In popular locations, sunset can be the time when it is most crowded. Sunset at Horseshoe Bend for example was a zoo, with hundreds of visitors crowding around the rim, making lots of noise and occupying many of the best photo spots. As usual though, people didn’t feel like getting up super early and thus, I was almost the only one there at sunrise.
As always, it comes down to the look you personally prefer. While I do think the starred sun and some flares can add a nice touch, as a general rule I recommend shooting with the sun at your back and deciding whether to shoot sunrise or sunset accordingly. With the sun rising or setting at your back, you have time to shoot more than just one good photo, move around a bit and let your creativity run wild.
Just because I had the time and love photography, I shot both sunset and sunrise at Horseshoe Bend and you can see the different results throughout this post. I had hoped for some pretty clouds in the sky in the morning to give the image that little bit of extra awesomeness and was disappointed. It happens. My favourite image was from sunset instead of sunrise. But, theoretically, Horseshoe Bend would definitely be the ideal sunrise spot.
As a last reminder, make sure to give yourself enough time to scout out a location. Don’t show up right as the sun is about to set or rise and then rush around frantically trying to find a good angle. Show up early enough to get a feel of the place, think about compositions and to find some good spots you want to photograph.