Find Yourself a Heavenly Opportunity
There are plenty of programs available that can help you determine what time the sun or moon will rise or set at your location, some of which that will even tell you the compass bearing for each time. Knowing this sort of information can help improve your odds of making the kind of "golden hour" images you've dreamed of. I recently came across a new program called Heavenly Opportunity from Fossil Creek Software that takes this whole idea a huge step further.
To begin with, the list of locations the program already knows about includes over 500 national parks, wildlife refuges and recreation areas along with 2500 named mountains, lakes, and other notable landscape features and just about every city and town in the United States. Each location includes the elevation further improve the accuracy of the program's calculations. If you can't find what you're looking for, you can still enter the longitude and latitude yourself, but given the number of predefined locations of interest to photographers, you probably won't need to resort to doing so.
The program automatically adjusts for the proper time zone and for daylight savings time. It also compensates for magnetic declination so the directions given can be transferred directly to a compass.
I ocasionally notice the moon low to the horizon near sunset when I'm at home. When I do, find myself wishing I had known ahead of time so I could be down at Mt. Rainier instead or something. Now with Heavenly Opportunity, that sort of opportunity need not be missed. Perhaps the most notable feature of the program is its ability to solve for when the sun or moon will be in a given position as seen from any given vantage point. This means you can not only tell where the sun will set tonight, but you can determine when it will set directly behind some particular landmark or other criteria so you can be there at the right time, ready and waiting. And if that's not enough, you can specify the desired moon phase as well. The potential of the search capability incredible.
Heavenly opportunity's search criteria screen
The program does have a few limitations though. While it allows you to save favorite locations to simplify later access, it should have an option to select the last used location automatically when the program starts. It also lacks the ability to print a calendar with daily rise and set times or moon phases, something other programs do offer. The program is fairly new though and I'm hopeful that future versions will add these features. Given the ingenuity of the features it does have and how well they are implemented, I won't be surprised if the developers also add other features I haven't even thought of.
Heavenly Opportunity is available as shareware for Windows only. This makes it easy to download to find out if you like it. Once you do, you'll likely be hooked too. It's now a permanent fixture on my laptop at least.
Update 10/16/2003: Some readers have asked about locations outside of the US. While all of the 31,050 locations the program already knows about are in the US, you can easily enter longitude, latitude and (optionally) altitude information from anywhere. Also, the location list is stored as a simple CVS file some if you have a source of bulk data for other locations, adding it to the list would be simple. The program determines time zone based on longitude and latitude so it may guess wrong in locations outside of the US but this can be easily overridden as well.
Update 03/17/2007 - John Bartholow of Fossil Creek Software has issued an update to Heavenly Opportunity to adjust for recent changes to Daylight Saving Time. Click here for the latest version.
Update 12/04/2007 - John Bartholow, author of Heavenly Opportunity, has issued a magnetic declination update to improve the accuracy of the program based on the declination as of 2005, the latest available data. I believe this is included in the current download from his site, but if you are an existing user and didn't get it by email from John, contact him for the free update.