Dawn Time

When first light is first light.

For the past 20 or years, I’ve lived in a place where I could see the horizon and watch the sun rise and set. This wasn’t the case when I lived in New Jersey or New York, in places surrounded by either tall trees or other buildings. It’s nice to see the horizon, to greet the sun when it makes its first appearance for the day, to see the way first light touches the landscape around me, to watch weather move through, to see last light and watch the sun dip below the horizon at the end of the day.

The sun, in a way, is my clock. Not having a scheduled life, I let it tell me when to get up in the morning and, during long summer days, often go to sleep not long after it sets.

I live at the base of some tall cliffs on a hillside overlooking the Wenatchee Valley and Columbia River. The cliffs are to the south of me — the view from my home is about 180°, basically from east to to north to west. To the east, the cliffs rise up from the east to their full height due south.

Pre-Dawn Horizon
The horizon, as shot from my front deck before dawn this morning. The E marks the point that is approximately due east.

During the winter, when the sun is low in the sky and rises more to the south — remember, I’m in Washington State at about 47° latitude — there’s a 6-week period when the sun doesn’t even clear the cliffs at my place (although it does shine down in the valley). I call that the Shadow Time and blogged about it here.

As the days get longer, the sun shifts north, eventually, at the spring equinox, rising due east. As long as it rises behind the cliffs, I don’t get direct sun until after it clears the tops of the cliffs. But this week, about 3 weeks after the first day of spring, the sun began rising far enough north that it appears at what I think of as the true horizon — the place where the horizon isn’t blocked by nearby hills or cliffs. From that point on, I see the sun when it makes its first appearance of the day — and will continue to see sunrise until about three weeks before the autumn equinox.

If all this is meaningless to you, you should explore some of the excellent articles on the web that explain the sun’s movement in the sky and seasons. Here are a few links to get started:

Astronomy is a lot more than stars and constellations. Just saying.

Since I have a name for the time when there’s no direct sun (Shadow Time), I thought I needed a name for the time when I can see the sun rise out of the far horizon. I’ve decided to call it Dawn Time.

If there’s a corresponding Sunset Time — the time I can watch the sun set into the far horizon — that would probably be a bit before the spring equinox. I can see due west from my home — the snow covered peaks of the Enchantment Range out beyond Leavenworth — and that’s where the sun’s setting these days.

Western Horizon
I shot this photo at first light from my side deck a few weeks ago. The sun touches the mountaintops to the west before it rises high enough to shine into the valley. This is probably my favorite part of sunrise.

But for some reason, I’m more interested in sunrise, the start of the day, than sunset. I’m a morning person, through and through and get my best work done before noon. By 5 or 6 PM, I’m pretty much spent. That’s when it’s nice to sit out on the deck with a glass of wine and watch the sun set — and the light show that often goes with it.

Sunrise/Sunset Times for Photographers

Phoenix times now updated.

SunI’ve just updated my calendar of sunrise and sunset times for the Phoenix area. I’ll be keeping this up-to-date as a published calendar. Subscribe at webcal://ical.me.com/mlanger/Sun.ics. I know you can subscribe with this link using iCal, but I think you can also subscribe with other calendar formats such as Google Calendar.

If you’d prefer to download and import the files, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015 are currently available.

If you’re a photographer or pilot, you know how helpful it can be to have this exact information. Every year for the past ten years or so, I’ve been updating iCal with this information so it’s always available on my computers and other electronic devices (think BlackBerry, iPad, etc.).

The last time I offered to create these files for photographers, I had a lot of folks ask for them but no one seemed willing to cough up a little dough for the time it takes me to create the files.

So here’s the deal: If you want sunrise/sunset times for 2011-2015 — that’s FIVE YEARS WORTH — in ics format, you’ll need to use this Paypal link to send me some coffee money. Be sure to include either the GPS coordinates for the place you want sunrise/sunset times for OR the Zip code. I’ll try to get the resulting files to you in e-mail within 72 hours. (Keep in mind that the more coffee you buy me, the more motivated (or caffeinated) I’ll be to send those files quickly.)

And no, I won’t add you to any e-mail list. I have way better things to do with my time than bother strangers who were kind enough to buy me coffee.

Lunar Eclipse Photos

February 20, 2008

It was cloudy most of yesterday and the clouds kept thickening right through sunset. The lunar eclipse was supposed to start right around then in the Mountain Time zone we live in. It was getting good and dark outside when a thunderstorm with lots of bright lightning began rumbling to the north. Radar showed it moving west to east just north of our home.

But against all odds, the moon broke through the clouds around 7 PM. We saw it from the den, where we were watching the Colbert Report on DVR. I hurried downstairs to fetch my Nikon D80 camera, new Nikon 55-200 mm lens, and tripod and soon had them set up on our upstairs back patio.

Lunar EclipseThis first photo was taken not long after 7 PM. The exposure was tricky. If I exposed for the light part, the dark part would be too dark. If I exposed for the dark part, the light part would be too light and the shutter speed would be so slow that the moon would move while the photo was being taken. (I have lots of blurry photos of the moon, so I know from experience.) I fiddled around with bracketing. This shot was taken at f5.6 with a 1-second exposure.

Lunar EclipseThis second photo was taken at least a half hour later. The moon had disappeared behind the clouds and come out several times. Then it developed this reddish glow that was likely from the shadow of the earth’s atmosphere. (At least that’s how I remember these things working.) This shot was taken at f5.6 with a 1/4 second exposure. There’s pretty good detail on the face of the moon.

I closed up shop (so to speak) after this shot. It was just too darn windy and cold to keep at it. Besides, the clouds kept hiding and revealing the moon. Call me a fair-weather photographer and you wouldn’t be too far from the truth.

Next time I’m going to try to do one of those multiple exposure shots where you see the earth’s shadow creeping over the moon a bit more in each shot. For that, however, I’ll need a good, clear shot of the sky, reasonable weather, and a quicker lens.