Understanding compass headings for sunrise and sunset can help you plan for location photoshoots

When photographing architectural exteriors, it's helpful to know where the sun will rise and set in relation to your subject. Everyone knows it rises in the east and sets in the west, but depending on where you are on the globe and what time of year it is, the sun moves quite a bit. Luckily, it moves predictably and you can look up the sun's position online. This is incredibly helpful when you're shooting a building and want to know if it will be backlit or lit from the front or side.

I like to look up the subject's location online with Google maps, take a screenshot and overlay it with a compass circle with lines at 15-degree intervals.

North = 0 degrees
East = 90 degrees
South = 180 degrees
West = 270 degrees

Then I look up the sun's compass heading. I type in the zip code of the location, and look up the scheduled shoot date on the chart. Now I know exactly where to expect the light in the morning, and evening, and it also allows me to visualize the sun's course throughout the day and anticipate obstacles like other buildings. It's a lot easier than it sounds. It's really fun actually. 

Here's a compass overlay I created for a shoot of a Twice Daily gas station last year. 69-degrees was the sunrise heading and 291-degrees was the sunset heading on shoot day.

Using this technique allowed us to choose the best store location to plan for a backlit photo with lens flare, knowing exactly where the sun would appear.

Some sun trivia

At the Spring and Fall Equinox the sun will rise at 90 degrees and set at 270, and day and night are of equal lengths. These are the only two days of the year when the sun actually rises and sets at due east and due west. This is because the equinox marks the point where the sun passes the celestial equator. In the Northern Hemisphere, in summer, the sun will rise and set north of 90/270, and in the winter it rises and sets south of 90/270. 

The Summer Solstice is the longest day of the year and gets longer as you go further north. Working on a shoot in Minnesota once, on the Summer Solstice, we started at 4:00 AM and the sun didn't set until about 9:30 PM.

Winter Solstice is the shortest day of the year and has been historically celebrated as a time of rebirth, because the days start to get longer after the Winter Solstice. Lots of ancient cultures built sacred sites to be illuminated by the sun's position only on the Winter Solstice. Here are some examples. 

Our Winter Solstice is the Summer Solstice in the Southern Hemisphere. 


Building a shot list

Building a shot list is more than making a list of products. It should also take into consideration time of day, time per shot, location and number of views/scenarios needed and talent. An experienced art director can help develop a focused shot list that takes these things into account. It seldom all goes exactly according to plan and you have to be adaptable. A shot list is a goal and it's good to try and leave a little breathing room in it because you'll probably need it.

One way is to start with an AM and PM session and divide your products or location set ups into each. How many things or places can we cover in AM? How many in PM? Can we group our AM locations together to minimize travel time? How many shots can we realistically do in an hour? Are there mandatories? Are there specific views needed like overhead or 3/4 side? Are there specific croppings needed? Those need to be on the list. Assign talent to each shot and group them into one session if possible. 

Another way is to group it by location. We'll do a half day at A, a half day at B and a full day at C and then see if you can fit your shots into the time allotted to each location.

Use Excel and set up a spreadsheet and you can sort by location, by day, by session, by talent and adjust as needed. With large shoots on location, you may even want to set up a cheap printer at the hotel, so you can make updates and give everyone a hard copy.

You can make it as detailed as you want. Some people like that. Some people like to be loose and just say make it look cool. As the client, it's up to you, but if you have specific needs, its best to communicate them before the shoot and a shot list will do that.

And add some references and be sure to discuss with your photographer. The photographer will be able to tell you how to make it even more efficient or whether its totally unrealistic and why. 

Do you need RAW files from your photographer?

If you are an art director or designer and are going to handle post processing and doing the retouching either yourself or with a professional retoucher then the answer could be yes. Otherwise, no.

Many photographers will refuse to give RAW files to anyone other than an agency or publication they can trust. Their reputations are on the line and unless you know what you're doing, you can make a big mess of a beautiful photo really quickly. Also the photographer may prefer to do the post processing themselves. And did I mention RAW files are really large compared to JPGs? You'll have to have hard drive space to store them and have a computer capable of even handling them.

In some cases the photographer may provide DNG files to an agency. DNG is Adobe's RAW format which allows a photographer to make adjustments and have them stay embedded in the file. In most cases though if you are not a designer, then JPGs are the way to go.

—  Brian Bruzewski, Owner/Photographer, Doublebee Photo