Comments about technological history, system fractures, and human resilience from James R. Chiles, the author of Inviting Disaster: Lessons from the Edge of Technology (HarperBusiness 2001; paperback 2002) and The God Machine: From Boomerangs to Black Hawks, the Story of the Helicopter (Random House, 2007, paperback 2008)

Friday, August 19, 2011

Sunsets and Anti-Sunsets

When stopping to photograph a spectacular sunset or sunrise, look in the opposite direction too, at what might be thought of as the antipodal clouds. 

Antipodes are two spots on the Earth's surface that lie directly opposite; if one hammered a rod straight through the planet, it would hit both spots. For those who want to check out their own antipodal point, try out this nifty interactive map. (Using the hand cursor to slide the image, center the top map on your location. The lower map will show the antipodal point.)

The antipodal point of my neighborhood is a trackless patch of the Indian Ocean, midway between Australia and India but more southerly. Well, not quite trackless. I was surprised to see a big island that I've never heard of, a territory of France called Kerguelen. It's one of the French Southern Lands. The antipodal point of Kerguelen is south of Medicine Hat, Alberta, Canada. Here's a picture of Kerguelen's rock-ribbed headlands, what to me was terra incognita until just now:
Back to cloud-hunting. I concede that using the word "antipodes" is a stretch when it comes to cloud photography .... How about "anti-sunset"?

An anti-sunset photo would be one taken 180 degrees opposite of the sun's location on the compass: if the sun is hitting the horizon at 285 degrees on the compass, the anti-sunset happens at 105 degrees. Sometimes the anti-sunset is nothing special -- there are no clouds, or they lack features to catch the light -- but sometimes the anti-sunset outclasses the showier sunset. 

Here's an example of a recent, decent sunset in my area. Nothing outstanding, but I liked the warm, warbly texture.
Next, here's an anti-sunset photo the same evening.
Because the background sky of an anti-sunset is dark, sunlit clouds have a way of standing out. Here's a painting-like view of clouds off to the side:

A second photo halfway between sunset and anti-sunset. Notice how it has more depth than the showy sunset?
So, winding up: sunsets are fine and I love to watch them as much as anyone, but they tend to be short on subtlety and depth. So don't forget to take a spin and look at the whole sky!

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