The position of the sun is very important to photographers. You may be wondering why, so we will take a look at it in this post, together with ways of determining the location for a specific place. Btw. most of this is also applicable for the moon :)
Why you should know where the sun is?
There are many reasons for this, and here are a few of them:
1. To include it in your composition
Having sun in the photo makes for a little more complicated edit (the dynamic range of the scene is much bigger), but it also makes for a very interesting photo. You all know the shots where the sun peaks from behind the hills or from between buildings. You can get shots like that during sunrise and also sunset. The exact position is very important for this, as you need to know where to stand and where the sun will from that position.
2. To know where the sunset/sunrise is
The best colors of the clouds are usually towards the sunrise/sunset, so knowing where it will be is very important. For instance, while shooting from the Eiffel tower, you need to be there earlier to get your spot, without knowing where the sunset will be, you don’t know where to stand at all :)
3. To capture the golden light
The hour before sunset/after sunrise is called the Golden hour. During this time, the sun can shine with a wonderful golden light (is not every day, depends on the atmospheric condition). It can give a very nice yellow glow to a landscape, and to capture it, you need to know from where the sun will shine from.
4. To get/avoid a specific shadow
If you like to get a specific shadow in you photo, or really avoid one, knowing from where the sun will whine at the time can help. For instance if you are shooting from a high building, that can create an ugly shadow through your photo, just check from where the sun will shine before going there.
5. To get the most from a polarizing filter
If you ever used a polarizing filter, you know that it works best 90 degree from the sun position (so you have the sun on your right or left side). If you want to get a nice blue sky, check the location first.
How to find the position?
As there are many devices you can use, and which you may have handy, let’s look at almost all of them.
On your PC/MAC
My favorite on the PC is the website www.suncalc.net. It’s an overlay on google maps data, is very easy to use and very fast. If one only wants a quick location check on the sun, this is the fastest way to get it.
There was a dedicated desktop app The Photographers ephemeris, which is being retired in a month, but you can still use the WebApp version from your browser. It gives a little more info than Suncalc, but in my experience it’s slower most of the times. Of course if one wants to use the same thing on every platform, this is the best solution, as they also provide a iOS and Android app.
On Windows 8 you can also use an app like the Golden Hour, which looks nice and simple, but it can only show the sunset/sunrise position, so the usefulness is limited.
On Windows Phone
I currently use a Windows Phone based phone, and the App for sun position I use is the Sun Tracker. It gives you the position of the sun, together with a lot of photography specific information, like the blue hour times. It also provides a augmented reality filter, where you can follow the position of the sun on the sky.
For Android and iOS you can go with the same software as on a desktop, the Photographers ephemeris, or you can try a different software, like the SunDroid (on Android). I personally prefer SunDroid, as it gives more information and also includes very nice widgets. Specific for the iPad I also see the LightTrac being quite nice, even if I haven’t used it as I currently don’t use any iOS devices.
I’m not including any links here, as there are different for country app stores, just search for the name and you will find the apps :)
So the decision on what to use is your own, the best coherent experience can be found using The Photographers ephemeris, my personal favorite is currently Suncalc.net. I hope some of you will find this useful and if there any questions, feel free to ask.