The Sun’s the greatest light source of all time. It lights the Earth everyday with it’s beautiful light without the need to setup light stands, find power outlets, carry sandbags, and so fourth. It warms us up, and makes everyone feel bright and happy. And someone was generous enough to provide it to us for free, too! Boy, imagine how much it would cost to suspend a ball of fire 92 million miles up in the sky. Maybe one million dollars.
But the thing about the Sun is – you don’t really know what kind of light it’s going to throw at you. It could be hard light on a bright and Sunny day, or really soft and diffused light on a cloudy day. The two are very different, and could really change the photo. But the good news is, the weather man’s there to tell you that kind of stuff.
Or, for all you know, the sun might suddenly disappear – you could be shooting during the eclipse on December 21st of this year, which marks the end of the world according to the Mayans.
In any case, another important aspect of light is obviously, direction. On a Sunny day you know the Sun is going to be out, but where? As far as photography goes, “up in the sky” isn’t always helpful. Sometimes you know you want to get a back-lit shot, or want to shoot in a specific shadow casted by a tree. If you really want to plan your lighting using the Sun, knowing exactly where it’s going to be is going to help a lot.
Recently I’ve picked up a iPhone app called Helios. I’ve always been looking for an app like this one. It’s been out for quite a while, but I only found it recently. It’s a app on the phone that calculates the position of the Sun at any time any place.
Okay, I know that sounds really lame but the coolest part is how it displays it. Point the iPhone camera towards the sky. Using the app, the camera on the iPhone displays the scenery on the screen, and at the same time it overlays the Sun at different directions. As you point the phone in different directions, the overlaid positions of the Sun move at the same time! So you can get a visual picture of where exactly the Sun is going to be, instead of getting complicated coordinates and getting too lazy to pull out your protractor that you’ve never used since middle school.
The intuitive-ness of this app is fantastic. For photographers, nothing helps more than getting a visual picture. Since you can spin the camera around and see all directions, you get a sense of relative position and it’s easy to imagine exactly where the Sun is going to be. You can also take snapshots on your iPhone to reference these images later.
It’s pretty accurate, too. Given that you’re scouting during the day, you can calibrate the app by pointing the crosshairs in the camera view directly towards the Sun where you are now.
There are a few other functions that tells you a little more information (in numbers) about the position of the Sun, but none of that stuff matters as long as you get to see where the Sun is going to be, on location.