Solstice Sunset at Fairlane


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Mar 31, 2012
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Dearborn, MI
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There's a story behind this photo.

I may have mentioned that my "other" hobby is astronomy. I volunteer at a local planetarium for a college giving presentations on astronomy and operating the planetarium. The college where I volunteer is Henry Ford Community College -- which HAPPENS to be adjacent to University of Michigan Dearborn. As the colleges have adjacent campuses, they share some resources -- among these, their physics departments share astronomy resources. UMD has a nice observatory but HFCC has a nice planetarium.

One of the astrophysics professors thought it'd be a nice idea to do a special event around the science of the solstice. I and my fellow planetarium operators were asked if we'd volunteer to put on a special show for the solstice (not a regular show.) Two of us volunteered to do this.

I created a presentation mostly centered around the "science" of the solstices ... explaining the tilt of the Earth as well as how our elliptical orbit causes the sun to appear to advance and retard over the seasons to create a sun analemma shaped like a figure-eight.

My colleague created some content around archeoastronomy -- featuring several locations on Earth where we've found archaeological ruins designed for astronomical purposes. Usually when such ruins are identified, the positions of the sun and solstices are prominent.

Another club member (not a planetarium operator) works for the Henry Ford Museum doing research and dealing with archives. He happened to contact us and mention that Henry Ford had a lawn made where he cut a swath through a forest off the back side of his patio. The swath was cut SPECIFICALLY so that on the evening of the solstice the sun would EXACTLY set between the tree lines in the middle of his lawn.

While June 21 is officially the solstice this year, technically the "solstice" occurs at 5:04am GMT which works out to 1:04am local time. That means that the sunset on June 20th is technically closer to the solstice alignment than the sunset on June 21.

I quickly drove over the the Henry Ford Estate (Henry Ford named it "Fairlane" -- so those of you who remember those old Ford Fairlanes... they were named for this area of Dearborn where he chose to build his home.) All the signs indicated that the estate grounds would be closed and all gates locked at 6pm. As the sun doesn't set until 9:13pm... that was no good.

So I contacted security to see if I could get special permission to enter the grounds after closing... and they managed to make a few phone calls and get permission. (YES!!!!) Also... forecast was for mostly clear skies (a few clouds can enhance a sunset.) Basically everything was lining up for me.

So here's a couple of images. One is a screen shot from my iPad's "Sun Surveyor" app (THANK YOU 480Sparky for your post on that. This is a GREAT app that I use often!) This shows the position of Henry Ford's patio behind his home at Fairlane. The green was cut so that the sun would set exactly between the trees as viewed from the opening and step off his patio but ONLY on the day of the solstice.

The second image is the shot I took.

Since I _STRONGLY_ feel that the "point" of photography forums is to help others by explaining the nuances of how a shot was taken, I'll get to that.

Here's the screen-shot of Sun Surveyor (not my photograph). Click for larger size. The center point is the hypothetical position of the camera on the patio (you can pick any location on Earth). You can pick your astronomical feature - but in this case I'm interested in the sun (I could have picked the moon if I had wanted). The three lines indicate (a) the position of sunrise (the line vectoring off toward the northeast) (b) the "current" position of the sun at the time I took this screen-shot (vectoring off mostly to the south), and (c) the position of the sunset (the line vectoring off to the northwest). There's also an arc with points on it representing the relative position of the sun at every hour throughout the day.)


You can see in the above image that there's a green swath of lawn cut through the forest toward a small lake. The red line shows that on the day of the solstice, the sun will set on that lawn as viewed from the camera location (on the patio.)

And now... here's the shot I took:

Solstice Sunset by Tim Campbell1, on Flickr

I'm standing on the patio of Henry Ford's home as I take this photo.

I deliberately took this photo at f/22 to put "diffraction spikes" on the sun as it set. I'm also using a fairly inexpensive Cokin 3-stop gradient ND filter (0.9) to help tame the sky brightness while not harming the exposure on the lawn.

The EXIF data is attached to the image and viewable at Flickr.

BTW, there is some red lens flare extending onto the lawn -- I'm up in the air about whether or not I leave that in or retouch it out.
I love it. I even like the lens flare, but I actually like lens flare so take that with a grain of salt. Lovely shot and congrats on getting permission!
I love the story and research involved in this! The photo is quite nice also! :) Well done!

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