Determining Sunrise/Sunset Locations (the easy way)

Aki Island Sunset

Along with clouds, sunrises and sunsets are some of the most recorded time lapse subjects.  That’s why this tutorial is dedicated solely to knowing where and when sunrises and sunsets will occur.

The simplest method of knowing when and where to expect a sunrise or sunset is to visit this website from the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration:

NOAA Solar Calculator

It’s a Google Maps mashup that lets you find any location in the world and see, with colored lines, where the sun will appear to rise and set.

Step One

The default map should show North America, but it’s possible to scroll to any part of the world.  By zooming in on your location, the place marker should automatically relocate to where you want it.  You can also click and drag the marker for find tuning.

Step Two

Once your marker is in the desired location, make sure that your time zone is correct.  Time is calculated from Greenwich Mean, or UTC.  California, where I’m located, is -8 UTC.  Make sure to adjust for Daylight Savings Time if appropriate.  If everything is adjusted correctly, your day and time should now be right.

Sunrise calc form

Step Three

The bottom frame should now show the sunrise and sunset times.  Click in the boxes below the times in order to show Sunrise (green) and Sunset (red) on the map.  If it’s light outside, you can also select Current (yellow) for the sun’s present location.

Using the Map

The map is pretty simple to use.  For example, I can see from the map below that the sun will appear to rise from north Sacramento when viewed from Davis, California.

Sunrise calc

This method of locating sunrise and sunset locations is more accurate than simply pointing your camera east or west, but it’s limited in accuracy if your location changes while your in the field.  I’ll show a more accurate method in next week’s post.




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4 thoughts on “Determining Sunrise/Sunset Locations (the easy way)

    1. Thanks for the links, Yu. I just spent some time checking them out. Nowadays, I usually use an app on my phone for location data when I want to photograph the sun or moon but I still like to use a real compass for accuracy.

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