|Creating your own sun and moon guide|
If you're serious about nature and landscape photography, then you will probably have a need to know, at some point or another, when the sun or moon rises or sets. There are websites where you can find this for any given day, and there are probably smartphone apps for it. I detest cellphones, and I've been doing this for longer than such toys existed, so I go a different route.
This page tells you, in detail, how to make your own year-long guide to just when the sun and moon will rise, set, transit (pass directly overhead,) and what phase the moon is in. It's a bit tricky, but you only do this once and are good for the rest of the year. The completed file, in Microsoft Excel, can be carried on a flash drive, and you can even convert it into .pdf form for easy printing, even on a computer that does not have Microsoft Excel.
Bear in mind that times are all a bit subjective anyway, since the sun and moon not only "rise" over two-and-a-half minutes, counting first appearance to completely exposed above the horizon, but atmospheric distortion can actually fudge the appearance time slightly. Additionally, you typically will not have a clear view right to the flat horizon (such as on the ocean on a very clear day,) but will be looking at trees, hills, and general geography between you and the sun or moon, so these times will vary a bit — expect nothing to be exact. Plus, you're going to be in position and set up well ahead of time, aren't you?
I have prepared a blank form with some formatting already in place, so a large part of setting this up is already completed. You can thank me by check or money order. Everything is cut and paste, you just have to be careful when you do so in order for it to be accurate. But I'm walking you through it step by step.
You will need:
To begin, find your latitude and longitude. Decimal form is fine, and you want four places after the decimal. A website for your local weather will usually provide this for you, close enough to be effective, or you can get precise with Google Earth or similar programs.
Now go to http://www.40-below.com/sunmoon/index.html and skip down to the "Date Range Entry Form" section. Put in your date range up to the day before Daylight Saving Time, if you observe it where you live, or to the end of the first quarter of the year if you do not — the form will only produce so many records, so you have to break it up either way. Not to mention that you'll check a box for DST a little further down, so you'll be given the correctly adjusted times. For 2013, Daylight Saving Time in the United States begins March 10 and ends November 3 . So, for example, you would enter, "01/01/13" and "03/09/13" for the start and end times.
Enter your latitude and longitude, taking care to check the appropriate boxes. North America is North latitude, West longitude. Sometimes you will have obtained a figure with a minus symbol in front, such as "-71.1234". This means "South" if it's latitude, and "West" if it's longitude. Ignore the minus and check the appropriate box instead. Also enter your time zone relative to Greenwich time (or Zulu time if you prefer, like I do.) It means how far behind Greenwich time you are, so don't list it as "-5" as many clocks present it. Then select "Daylight Savings: No," since it doesn't count for this time period.
It should look pretty much like the image at right (I used a previous year's image, which explains the dates.) Hit "submit" and you'll receive a list of raw data.
Select/highlight the entire block of data, starting at the beginning of the first date and including the last date and moon phase if it's listed, but excluding the header and footer information. You just want the dates and phases. Copy this, and paste it into a new blank text document. Microsoft's Notepad works fine for this. Before you go any further, save this file under whatever name you like — you're just using it for data storage for now. Save it every time you add new info, so you don't accidentally dump a lot of work and have to do it all over again.
Now, hit the back page key on your web browser to return to the previous Date Range Entry Form. This time, change the dates to the range of the first day of DST (or the next quarter) to June 30. If necessary, now check the "DST Yes" box. Submit again. Copy and paste this info into the same text document you just created, immediately below the last block of text to create an ongoing list.
If you have done this right, you should notice that on the first day of DST, your sunrise should have jumped ahead almost an hour. If you do not observe DST, then the sunrise time should continue in the same pattern as before, less than two minutes earlier than the previous day.
Repeat the above steps to take you from July 1 to the day before DST ends (or September 30,) and then from the day DST ends (or October 1) to the end of the year. Remember to change DST as necessary. You will end up with a long data list for the whole year. Again, save this document for safety. You can now close that website.
Open the document that I provided. It should look about like the image at right. Feel free to play around with scrolling on this page, and you'll note that the window scrolls to keep the monthly headers, and the date at the left side, visible at all times — I know what's handiest. Feel free to change the location and latitude/longitude info in the header to reflect your location, since you will need this for next year's guide. However, do not enter anything within the time cells that all read "0:00:00". They will fill themselves in within a short while.
My instructions, by the way, are specific to Excel XP. Since Microsoft changes their menus around every goddamn time they update their programs, I cannot guarantee you will find these functions in the same place, or named the same, as I describe here. Some hunting may be necessary
Note, down at the bottom of the document, there are three tabs, with "Sunrise" active. These are the three pages that will display your times. Right now, click on "Raw Data" to go to that page. You will see that it is mostly blank, with a colored cell at C4. Place your cursor here to make it active.
We're about to do a data import, a timesaving function in Excel. My instructions are specific to Excel, but Open Office should have very similar commands.
With cell C4 selected, go to the menu at top and select "Data," then "Import External Data," then "Import Data." It will ask you for the file to use, and you'll select the text file with all of your raw data that we just created. It will open a new window with a sample of the data within it, so you know you have the right one.
Ensure that "Delimited" is checked, then click "Next."
Now Step 2 of 3 is open, with your data sorted into columns. Ensure that both "Space" and "Treat consecutive delimiters as one" are checked, and nothing else. You might have a slight discrepancy in the columns due to the capture of a stray space at the beginning of some lines — ignore this for the moment. Click "Next."
You should need to make no changes to Step 3, and just click "Finish." It may ask you where you want to put the data, and C4 should be highlighted on the spreadsheet. If it is not, you can choose it now and hit 'Import." You should now have populated your Raw Data page with all of your sun and moon data.
As I mentioned, some of the rows might not line up with the existing column header as planned. You must be careful of how you make corrections, because simply inserting or deleting a cell will also alter the formulas on the other pages that collect this data. It is better to copy the errant data on this page, then "Paste Special" it in its proper place, using "Values Only." When done correctly, you should have a list of times beginning under the "Sun-Rise" column header, looking almost exactly like the image at right (the times will be different, because this is 2011's image again.) You may have kicked over the thick dividing line in the center on some rows, or moved your blue cell from C4 to D4 — these are meaningless, and safe to ignore.
"Save As" this file with the data within it under a new filename, whatever you like so you can find it easily — this will be your new Sun and Moon Guide, though we're not done yet. This prevents you from overwriting the blank document if you mess up, and thus won't have to download a new one.
Now, click on the "Sunrise" tab at the the bottom of the screen to go to that page. If you have the data located in the proper place on the Raw Data page, the Sunrise page should now be displaying all of the proper times for sun rise, transit, and set throughout the year! You can check these against the Raw Data page, or even the text file you made from the website info to be sure you have it right.
The Sunrise and Moonrise pages rely on referrals, getting their data from another source, in this case on a different page. If you click on any cell on the Sunrise Page (such as B12,) you'll notice that the formula bar at top does not list the sunrise time itself, but the formula that produces it. It's very easy to overwrite this, so try not to change anything.
An important thing to note here is that, if you change around the cells and columns now on the Raw Data page, you can mess with the sun rise and set times on your Sunrise page. So leave them alone.
You may have noticed my little comment about DST in the chart — Daylight Saving Time is a totally nonsensical concept that should be eradicated, as far as I'm concerned. It actually serves to drive your heating bill up in most regions. I'd be just fine with everyone using Zulu Time. This would mean, perhaps, that sunrise might occur at 2 PM where you live — so what? It's just a number we've become accustomed to. Why doesn't it occur at 1 AM, wouldn't that make more sense? And, as you may be seeing, sunrise occurs at various times throughout the year, so worrying about what should be a "proper" time for it is ludicrous.
Anyway, if everything has been done correctly, you should note the jump in time for Daylight Saving Time right where the cells change color — this is why I included the color in those cells to begin with. If you do not observe DST, you can ignore this color formatting.
Click on the "Moonrise" tab to go to that page, which is even more colorful. This is my little guide for moon phase by color, and the legend is listed across the top of the chart. The phases should line up with the data, but there may be some small discrepancies due to relative locations around the world, so feel free to check the color bars against the data from your text file. It's easy to change the color formatting if you need to, by selecting a group of cells and formatting their fill color with the Format menu or the toolbar. You may also note the red bars for the DST dates as well, to help explain why the times break pattern.
Note that there are a number of places — in fact, one for each column, and perhaps even two for some — where a time followed by a plus sign is listed. The reason for this is, the moon ends up splitting its days since the date changes at midnight, so the moonset time with a plus actually indicates that it sets the following day. You'll see that it is exactly the same set time for the following date (without the plus.) They follow a pattern that makes them easy to spot, so feel free to simply delete these "plus" times, if it makes it easier to recognize that the moon is setting past midnight and officially the next day. Whatever works for you. Note that if you delete the formula within the cell, you will have to restore it if you use the same file for next year (or, simply use the blank file again.) The formulas follow a distinct pattern, so it's not hard to figure out what belonged in any cell.
At this point, you should be all set for 2013, and can even use this for later years as well, by downloading more raw text data from the same website (I've been using it exactly this way for years.) Note that Daylight Savings Time, and most especially the moon phase color codes, will change from year to year, so you'll have to change those to use this blank again.
So, that's it! Slightly fussy, but believe me, I saved you a bit of time trying to format all of the pages to put this info where it's needed! If you find any mistakes, don't hesitate to contact me and I'll fix them right away. Otherwise, use your handy guide to plan your photography trips, especially when you go someplace really scenic.
Remember, first light is about 45 minutes before actual sunrise, and last light about 45 minutes past set. Be in location early to catch all of the colors. You can also use Heavens-Above.com to plan individual days, including the compass point where the sun or moon will appear. You can also use Keith's handy moon page to judge proper exposures of the different phases of the moon, and even try some photography by the light of the moon — it's pretty cool!
Have fun, and good luck!