Photo Tip/Travel Tip – Determining How Long You Have Before the Sun Goes Down on You

May 8, 2010

The golden hours of sunset are a great time to shoot your photography.  Unfortunately, there are times when you are getting those memory shots, but you know you need to get back closer to civilization before the sun goes down.  This could be anywhere from a desert location, out on open water, or (for this blog especially) out in the African bush.  So, how do you know when the sun will be down?

Scenes like this make me want to stay out shooting as long as the light will allow me. How much time do I have before sunset? - © P. B. Eleazer

Today’s photo tip was taught to me by the British Adventurer, Bear Grylls.  Mr. Grylls is a trained survivalist and hosts a U.S. television show “Man vs. Wild”.  In one of his episodes, he noted the importance of making camp prior to sunset and displayed a neat trick to predict sunset.  The method is quite simple and I have proven it’s effectiveness in my trips into Chobe National Park.

Step 1 – Face the sun and hold your hand out at arm’s length.

Step 2 – hold your fingers parallel to the distant horizon with your lowest finger aligned with the horizon. (see photo 2)

Photo 2 - hand position for calculating time until sunset - © P. B. Eleazer

Step 3 – count the number of fingers between the horizon and the sun.  As you can see in my photo number 3,  I have about 45 minutes before the sun is fully set.

Photo 3 - Example of a 45 minute estimate until sunset - © P. B. Eleazer

That’s basically all there is to it.  Short lesson, simple lesson, and one that really works.  I have used this method for up to two hours of planning (stacking one hand upon the other).  Unfortunately, that used all of the fingers I personally posses, so I cannot vouch for this method for greater time planning … but we’re photographers and the golden hours are the only ones we care about anyway …. right?

Now you have my tip … so in the words of one of my favorite performers, Sir Elton John, “Don’t let the sun go down on you!

Minutes after the sun has set - © P. B. Eleazer

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4 Responses to Photo Tip/Travel Tip – Determining How Long You Have Before the Sun Goes Down on You

  1. Jovan Dimare on May 8, 2010 at 5:25 pm

    Random question: I know you are using wordpress for this blog, but have you tried any other platforms. I am trying to decide for my blog? and I ask because I like yours.

  2. Online Digital Photography Classes on May 8, 2010 at 5:27 pm

    Thanks for sharing this info. I will definitely be needing this kind of informations if I am to become more than an amateur photographer. I hope you upload your blog constantly as I`m looking forward in reading more about this topic.

  3. P. B. Eleazer on May 9, 2010 at 3:00 am


    I’ve not tried other platforms, buy have tried other skins in WordPress. It’s quite flexible as a base software and I would recommend it.

    P. B. Eleazer

  4. Mats Nilson on August 11, 2010 at 12:33 pm

    Good tip – and one that probably works ok anywhere in the tropics where the sun sets more or less vertically. Try that up here in the Arctic, and you’ll be back in camp while the sun is still mockingly sliding along the horizon with little intent on setting at all! :-)

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