If you are like me racing with time remaining during the magic hour where the light quality is at its best, you want to know how much time you still have shooting with available ambient light. One quick technique that is originally used as a survival / camping technique is to use your fingers against the sun and the horizon to estimate the time remaining. Knowing how much ambient light you still have left in the day can have a great impact on the quality of your exposure.
In a survival scenario however, this technique is useful for knowing when it will get dark, or how many hours of sunlight you have remaining, thus giving you enough time to find shelter.
This method is used for an average adult with an outstretched hand. Each finger is a rough estimate of 15 minutes of time remaining, therefore four fingers are equal to one hour.
- Stretch your right arm out in front of you toward the sun. Bend your wrist so that your palm is facing you and your hand is horizontal with your thumb on top. The bottom of the sun should rest on the top of your index finger.
- Now put your left arm outstretched below the first (right).
- If you still did not touch the horizon with the second hand, move your upper hand under the second and continue moving your hands down toward that horizon line.
The image below shows four hours (sixteen fingers) worth of daylight left. Be sure to keep your arms straight as you slowly walk both hands down toward the horizon.
A final tip is not to put your hand too close to your face and not to bend the elbows. But hey, don't stop shooting when that sun disappears, there is another quality of light during those 40 to 60 minutes after sunset where the sky will cast a saturated heavenly blue and red color. Try it out!