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December, 2012:

Hunting the Sunset

Tonight I fed my soul.

I can’t speak for anybody else, really, but I know that my soul tends to need feeding on a regular basis. There’s a lot of stressors structured into the society I live in that suck out soul-stuff on a daily basis; if I don’t renew that, I get cranky, and start to forget the important stuff, like sunsets and loving myself enough to take time to enjoy them.

There’s somewhat of a universal appeal to a sunset, it seems. Tonight, for example, I went to what I think is part of Marina Park in San Leandro, about fifteen minutes from where I live. There’s a peninsula separating the marina from the Bay, with a fair bit of parking along the breakwater. It’s an easy destination for me, and for others.

Tonight, I heard at least two languages other than English out there, and saw folks from a number of different social, economic, and ethnic “communities” here. I saw people in tattered denim; I saw one foursome in formal wear. Each and every one of them went out of their way to come down by the water’s edge to watch the sun go down over the Peninsula.

In Key West, they’ve made sunset a celebration. They have jugglers, musicians, one guy who’s trained his cats to jump through hoops, dancers, and the occasional fire eater. And when the last edge of the sun disappears below the horizon, or below Tank Island (Sunset Key)…people applaud and cheer.

I was the only person who applauded tonight at San Leandro Marina, but that’s cool.

Just being by the water calms me. It was near low tide tonight, so the water was *way* out. The wind was almost calm; the water was almost glass-like. I also like the sound of waves slapping against the shore, but that wasn’t part of tonight’s symphony.

Picture of approaching sunset

Sunset Coming Soon

Advice for the Would-Be Sunset Hunter

I highly recommend showing up early. There are plenty of resources online and smart phone apps that will tell you what time sunset occurs where you are; look this stuff up ahead of time. If you plan to show up a half hour before actual sunset, this is enough time for you to really “arrive,” to let go of any stress you might have had about getting there in time, and if you take pictures or want to set up a folding chair, to figure out where you want to be and get settled there.

Another sunset picture

Low tide at San Leandro Marina – taken while waiting for sunset

Some clouds are good. Clouds are the stuff that the reddening light of the setting sun will color. A few strategically-placed clouds will turn an “ordinary” sunset into a spectacular one. If there are no clouds, you’ll still see a great sunset, but the truly photogenic ones have some high clouds in them.

I use my iPhone to take pictures. I have friends who use fancy cameras. They get better pictures. I get pictures that are still pretty spectacular. Use what you have. If you have a smartphone, try using the HDR setting on your cam software, or download an HDR app. This will take two pictures at different exposures and combine them. This can compensate for the sun’s glare, at least until the sun has gone down, and brings back other details in your pictures. Sometimes you get weird “ghosting” effects in an HDR picture, but if you’re digital, you can always delete it. :)

Roughly the same as the first sunset picture, with HDR

Up until the sun starts to cross the horizon, all the interesting stuff to look at and photograph is what’s around you – if you’re by the water, maybe the birds or boats are doing something interesting. I got a picture or two of a blimp tonight, which was in the air as a camera platform for the 49ers game at Candlestick. I could see the lights at the ‘Stick from my vantage point.

Contrails make a nice composition touch

Don’t look directly at the sun! You’ll go blind. Look off to one side or the other, or through the viewfinder of your camera/phone.

I take a bunch of pictures while the sun is crossing the horizon, trying to capture the exact moment of sunset. If I’m someplace like Key West, where I can see the sun crossing into the sea, I’m still hoping to see and get a picture of the “green flash.” When I’m by the Bay, I can’t see that of course – the sun disappears over the hills, and isn’t low enough to give me that view. But as I’ve written elsewhere…the sunset is still worthwhile. :)

Once the sun has set…wait. Keep watching. This is when the sky starts to turn interesting colors, especially if there are clouds. This stage of sunset can last another half hour or more, and is well worth sitting through. You can get a hint of what the clouds nearer the west will do by occasionally looking east – the colors will show up in the east first, and then travel across the sky with the Earth’s shadow.

Half an hour after sunset – worth waiting for!

If you’re taking pictures, rotate the camera from time to time – take some shots “portrait” and some “landscape.” You never know what’ll look great later.

After the red part of sunset starts to fade, you’re probably done taking pictures. Kick back and watch the sky for as long as you like before heading in.

I hope you enjoy many sunsets!