Can one predict sunsets?

Discussion in 'Nature' started by hearst, Mar 30, 2000.

  1. Thanks to the Alamanac in OP I can look up the azimuth of sunrise and
    sunset anywhere in the Northern Hemisphere, and it's easy to get the
    time. So fine: I go to a beach somewhere and set up my camera at the
    correct azimuth and wait until the correct time and get a very boring
    sunset! No picture! Often there are heavy clouds on the horizon,
    which give a hint that things won't be so good, but you never know so
    I wait, and my wife, who often has to wait with me, is not

    Does anyone know how, by looking at the sky half an hour or an hour in
    advance (or by any other method, for that matter) to predict whether a
    sunset will be worth waiting for? Same question for sunrise?
  2. Joe, I've found that looking for high-altitude clouds often results in spectaular sunrise/sunsets. I find that the thin, high-altitude clouds (cirrus? I'm not a meterologist) that occur over a wide area of sky tend to reflect light the best and produce spectacular results. Often I find myself looking at the sky a couple of hours before sunset and make a decision whether or not to go photograph. It doesn't always work but more often than not I get good results. Sunrises are a little tougher, I usually can't tell in the early morning hours (due to light pollution)whether or not there are good cloud formations. Its more of a draw. I also find that lower altitude clouds don't reflect very well and often result in dull sunsets. Hope this helps.
  3. I imagine there are a lot of answers to this, but I can tell you what I look for. If there is a day when it is quite clear except for some very high level clouds then I know there is going to be an awesome sunset. What happens is the sun goes below the horizon from the point of view of the ground, but its rays just scrape by the edge of the earth and then go through lots more atmosphere before hitting the undersides of the high clouds, leading to great colors. I can usually tell in the afternoon if conditions are right and then get to a place in the evening to watch. It often happens just after a cold front has moved through.
  4. One of the great things about sunsets is they're always different. I can't reliably predict what a sunset will look like hours in advance but I can tell if particular elements are there that may help a scene.

    One situation I'll always look for is lots of clouds where you are and blue sky on the horizon where the sun is falling. To me, that will always produce excellent photo ops. Then challenge becomes finding something to shoot with the sunset.

    Tom Hill
  5. The great thing about sky scenes is you never know what's going to happen. One thing I've learned: Never lose hope. Another thing: Hang in there as long as you can: Till dark, if you've got the time. I've photographed a fireball of red between two peaks (and low on the horizon) when the rest of the sky had essentially gone black due to a storm. Nature continually surprises and delights (as well as disappoints). Look for breaks along the horizon where the sun is setting, but also off to the sides. Also pay attention to the rest of the sky: Often the most colorful (or more interesting) clouds are north or south. I continually scan the whole sky, but my first sense of the kind of sunset to expect starts in the east, since color starts there first, then works its way west.
    Mike Derr
  6. I have found the US Naval observatory site very useful You can get the azimuth (bearing) of sunrise, sunset, moonrise, moonset on a particular day and this is very handy if you are interested in capturing, say, hypothetically, moonrise over hernandez, NM. I have used it in combination with Topo! digitized maps to figure out where I need to be to see moonrise over a particular mountain or whatnot. Neat stuff.

    As for the weather or good sunrise/sunset conditions I have no idea how to predict them.
  7. I recently grabbed my gear and went off to shoot when I knew a sunset was gonna happen. A lady walking her dog saw me as the sunset bloomed a beautiful crimson and said, "You're lucky you caught it," but it wasn't about luck. Just by observation in my native area (San Francisco) I've learned what cloud formations make the best sunsets. I'd thought I missed my chance since fall is the motherlode for that cloud formation, but I was pleasantly surprised to see it a coupla weeks ago. The formation I like best here is what this site ( calls mid-level clouds. If I see these around sunset, I know it's gonna be a beauty!
  8. "Can one predict sunsets?"

    Yes! They happen once per day on the planet I live on. If you live in a bi-solar system, you might get two a day. Actually the sun doesn't set; the planet turns. What a self-centered mindset we have. A more correct phrase would be "Look how beautiful the planet turns." Hope this helps. Peace Rolland
  9. Look for days when there is a southerly component to the winds aloft. That's when the air will have the most haziness to it and give the more vibrant sunsets. As a general rule, add 20 degrees or so to the direction the wind is coming from on the ground, and that'll give you a ballpark of from where the winds aloft are coming from. 200-250 degrees would be a good direction for the winds aloft to be coming from. And, of course, no low overcast, perhaps a little thin cirrus, or with some luck, some neat looking cumulus.
  10. There are no sure-fire predictors. Patience and enjoying what you do see, even if it's not a great photograph, help. Rather than pinning all your hopes on whether the sunset will be great, if you go somewhere where there are other things you enjoy photographing (e.g., macro images of flowers) you can still get some images out of the trip and not feel like it was wasted.

    That said, mid or high-level clouds are frequently good. If a storm is clearing out at the right time the clouds can be spectacular. Sunrise with clearing fog (a common occurrence in summer in my area of California) can be breath-taking, but is even less predictable.

    And as previously mentioned, have patience and stay for sunset as long as you can. Too many times to count I've seen people lined up at the beach or in the hills, cameras (and sometimes flashes -- doh!) firing away, and as soon as the sun is below the horizon they're in their cars and driving off. The really dramatic stuff doesn't always happen until some time after sunset itself, so be sure you're shooting with a tripod and stick around as long as you can. For sunrise, be sure you get there in advance of the actual time for sunrise and be ready.
  11. >I wait, and my wife, who often has to wait with me, is not enthusiastic<

    Another tip: Buy your wife a camera, too. There's nothing like sharing, and maybe she'll see what you see in photography--but with her own perspective. You'll learn something, too. I did.
  12. Something else which may help is to poke around on the web, and find a good source of satellite cloud photos for where you live. You can generally see whether it's going to be cloudy or clear in the next few hours. (This depends slightly on how your local weather works!)

    Here's the link I have on my own website, for this very purpose:
  13. A sometimes usefull idea comes from the old nautical saying, "Red in morning, sailors take warning, red at night, sailors' delight." Turning that around, look for red skies at sunrise before a storm and at sunset after a storm. This only works if you live in a place where storms usually move west to east, which they do in the U.S. Your mileage may vary with this "rule."
  14. One of Galen Rowell's strategies is to get out into the field when the weather is bad and wait for one of those rare breaks in the weather when light does unusual things. Not very predictable, but much more rewarding than just catching a slightly above-average sunset. An excellent and motivating article:
  15. My foundation year "Light & Colour" class at Pratt Institute was with Mary Buckley, colour consultant to architect Phillip Johnson, selector of the Pepsi RW&B, and the most perceptive person who ever lived. Mary asked: Why do we gaze at the city day after day, year in, year out, even though the skyline does not change? We are not watching the city. We are watching the light. The light is always changing. The changing light is what we need to experience to live.

    Live long enough inside your own head and a sunset can be a stunning revelation.

    BUT, concentrate on sunsets long enough, to the point you DEMAND A GUARANTEED SUNSET, and you're cooped-up back in your head, again. Sunsets are not beautiful because they have pretty colours; they are beautiful because they cannot be predicted. The universe is bigger than you and does not produce sunsets to your specifications. Inverting this statment courts ultimate distress: Read "Job."
  16. We tend to have spectacular sunsets more often here in Saskatchewan when the atmosphere is full of particulate matter such as forest fire smoke (from the north). After major volcanic eruptions (like the one in the Philippines a few years ago) we had lots of nice sunsets. The same applies for sunrises, too.
  17. While it might not be worth driving to the beach on a raining cloudy day, if you're already at a place that could have a nice sunset you might as well wait and see. I was backpacking in Wyoming in the wind river range. We were in a deep basin and it started getting really windy and raining and cold and dark. Generally horrible weather. So we got into our tents and started to go to sleep because it was looking like a boring grey black through the sky. Because we gave up we almost missed an amazing sunset, luckily someone looked out the door near and yelled at everyone to come out. A small patch of sky clear at the ridge a thousand feet or so above us. The ridge looked like it was on fire, really amazing. So we stood in the rain and wind, shivering in shorts and t-shirts for a while in awe. My point is that if your already there, just hang in there and see what happens. If your bored read a book while you wait, just don't give up on the last 15 or 20 minutes after hanging around someplace all day.
  18. Watch lots of sunsets - eventually you'll start to see patterns. It is, I'm afraid, at least partly a matter of luck and persistence. Every so often you see it coming that you get in place ahead of time and - yes! - it works.
    One evening this summer it all fell into place. I saw the lenticular clouds over Tuolumne meadow hours earlier and I made a point of finding my shooting location a full hour and a half before the snow began. Nine times out of ten it doesn't pan out. But then on the tenth time:
    The advice to just show up a lot is good advice. I'll show up for 50 mediocre sunsets if I get to experience one like this... :)

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