Golden Hour and Blue Hour are the optimum times for us photographers. It’s been drilled into us since day one. We have apps that tell us when the sun will rise and set, and tell us in which direction. The thing is, it’s only worth knowing that information if the sunset or sunrise is going to add to our shot.
There’s a science behind beautiful sunrises and sunsets. This article aims to arm you with the key factors which make for a beautiful sky.
The colors of the sunset result from a phenomenon called scattering. Molecules and small particles in the atmosphere change the direction of light rays, causing them to scatter.
Scattering affects the color of light coming from the sky, but the details are determined by the wavelength of the light and the size of the particle. The short-wavelength blue and violet are scattered by molecules in the air much more than other colors of the spectrum. This is why blue and violet light reaches our eyes from all directions on a clear day. But because we can’t see violet very well, the sky appears blue.
That said, we don’t want much moisture or pollution in the atmosphere. These things don’t scatter the blue and violet. They scatter the entire spectrum and mute the colours of sunrise and sunset.
Clouds are another key factor. Even if they’re only thin, wispy cirrus clouds. These clouds will reflect the dispersed, scattered light and without the presence of the clouds we wouldn’t see the light. If the clouds are too thick they won’t allow any light to pass through. Cloud coverage is measured in meteorology in 8th’s, so on some forecasts we want to see between 2/8 and 6/8, which is roughly 30-70% coverage.
To keep the status-quo, we want a calm wind. A strong wind can destroy our sunset by pushing the clouds all over the sky and can even break them up and spread them out.
The sun is low on the horizon at sunrise and sunset, so the light from the sun has farther to travel and more opportunity to be scattered. The short-wavelength violet and blues are sometimes not only scattered, but lost altogether. This can leave only the warmer end of the spectrum.
It’s worth spending time shooting sunrises, too. At sunset, our eyes are tired from the brightness of the day, but at sunrise, we are adapted to the dark and notice the colors and brightness so much more vividly. With these factors in mind, there’s one further thing that steps sunrise up a gear over sunset – the change in view! Sunset shots are far more common than sunrise, so if we shoot sunrise we’re able to get a more unique perspective by changing our focus in the opposite direction to the more commonly seen angles of famous subjects.
On the whole, we, as a species, don’t like to be up early enough to shoot sunrise. Not regularly, anyway! It’s more ‘normal’ for us to sleep in a little and spend our energy shooting throughout the day and into sunset. The rewards of shooting a sunrise range from being set up to an awesome day ahead, through to potentially capturing the best photos we’ve ever gotten. Oh, and if you’re not so much of a people-person, their absence in at sunrise will be great for you!
To determine whether a sunrise or sunset will look good, knowing what we now know, here’s what to look out for: –
- Mid to High-level clouds to reflect the light
- A clear lower atmosphere
- Low humidity
- Calm winds
The signs and clues we use for sunset also apply at sunrise, but it can be harder to spot them because it’s dark! In the case of sunrise, it helps to use weather apps and forecasts to determine the chances of success.
Moving away from the photography, a good sunrise or sunset is good for your health! Just as an added bonus!