How to Take the Best Sunrise and Sunset Photos

Photo: Grisha Bruev, Shutterstock
Photo: Grisha Bruev, Shutterstock

There’s something we truly cannot resist about sunrises and sunsets. (And yes, the song is stuck in my head, and now yours too.) Even though they’re something that technically happens every day, it’s still hard not to be impressed with the first glow of a sunrise or the vivid colours of a sunset. Of course, this means that people post a lot of sunrise/sunset photos on social media. Are they the most original photos? Not really. But that’s not the point.

And while it’s easy to roll your eyes when one comes up in your feed, you can try to think of it as that person having a moment where they were able to slow down for a few seconds and enjoy something in nature. Or, maybe they walked out their back door in the evening, saw colours in the sky, quickly grabbed their phone and then snapped a pic specifically for the purpose of getting Facebook or Instagram likes. (And that’s fine, too!)

Regardless of motivation, you still need to have a post-worthy sunrise or sunset with the right mix of clouds and other factors. Here are some ways to predict if there will be a sunrise or sunset worth setting an alarm to see.

How to predict the best sunrise and sunset

This information comes to us from Sophia Armata, a meteorologist at NBC12 in Richmond, Virginia. Like many local news stations, viewers are invited to submit their sunrise and sunset photos for the possibility of them being shown live on-air by their favourite meteorologist. To help us know when we have the best chance of getting the perfect shot, Armata has provided us with this weather checklist:

High Visibility

Perfect visibility (16 km) lets you capture the full beauty of the morning/evening sky. A foggy morning or overcast evening will block the sunshine. When the sun is the most important element, you can’t afford to have low visibility.

Partly Cloudy Skies

In order to see the stunning pinks, purples, oranges, and reds associated with amazing sunrise/sunset pictures, there must be something for the sun to reflect off of. When the sun’s rays encounter white/grey clouds, the beams are reflected off of the clouds and produce the vibrant colours we love to see. Patchy and thin high/low level clouds are the best (cirrus, altocumulus, or cirrocumulus). About 30-60 per cent cloud cover is ideal. Any more/less than that and your photo could be a flop.

You tend to see more fiery coloured skies as the sun is setting. This is because the sun is at its lowest angle and is about to slip below the horizon. Since the sun is now at its furthest point from earth, its beams have to travel very far before reaching the human eye. Due to the distance, blue light is scattered at a much higher rate and we are left with the bright red/white light (this is more true to the sun’s actual colour).

Low-ish Humidity

The more moisture in the atmosphere, the more dull the colours. Autumn and winter skies typically produce the best sunrises/sunsets because humidity tends to be lower in these colder months.

Low Wind Speeds

In order for the partial cloud cover to stay in place, we need low wind speeds. Very windy days (say as a cold front is approaching) mean that the clouds will be pushed out and you’ll be left with clear skies. Partial cloud cover is important!

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This could also be another at-home science game/lesson, where you provide a version of this checklist to your kid and see how good they can get at predicting a good sunrise or sunset.

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