The colors of sunrises and sunsets…

Not all sunrises and sunsets are the same. Some are just plain boring. The sun comes up or goes down and the color of the clouds in the sky change very little. Sunsets are generally more colorful than sunrises because there is usually more dust, soot and aerosols in the air which cause different wavelengths of light to be filtered out while allowing others to pass.

I love sunrises and sunsets if only because it adds an element of drama to what might be an otherwise boring subject.

In the past few years that I’ve been shooting landscapes, most of my time outdoors is when the sun is rising or setting and I’ve witnessed all manner of colors of skies. Like snowflakes, no two sunrises ever seem to be the same. There are just too many variables that affect the colors.

During the course of one sunrise the colors can change dramatically.

The photo above was taken seven minutes before the photo below according to the data my camera recorded on the digital image. The sky is NOT a blazing orange or yellow. Instead, the colors are magenta/blue.

By looking at the colors above the horizon you can get a rough idea of when the image or the sky at least was exposed. The closer that the sun is to the horizon the warmer or more orange/red/yellow the colors get.

Here everything has a warmer glow. The clouds above me also reflect color onto the landscape below. In the first image, the water and rocks reflect the blue/magenta. Bottom photo, everything becomes redder.

How can this help you? Well the first thing to realize is that when you see a photographer’s blazing sky, understand that it’s his equipment or filter set that makes the sky that way. The filter might help a little but if the color isn’t up there to add color with a graduated filter looks unreal. I made that mistake a few years ago, buying a few hundred dollars worth of graduated color filters. They now gather dust in the basement. BTW if you’re interested in a few 4×4 Lee filters? LOL

If the photographer who is probably best known for his American west landscape photos today stopped using colored and graduated ND filters and gets consistently stunning results, what does that say about filters generally for landscapes?

There will be good, great and plain sunrises and sunsets. That’s probably one of the reasons that I love to shoot. I am NEVER guaranteed that I will bring back something that I like. I suppose it’s a bit like fishing or gambling. You never know when the next hand or cast will bring in the big one.

Happy shooting,


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~ by Dan Jurak on October 29, 2011.

6 Responses to “The colors of sunrises and sunsets…”

  1. Love these – and I agree! every dawn and dusk is a freshly choreographed light show. Well captured.

  2. I love sunrise and sunset, as you said, it creates dramataic light, and each one very different from the last. I think filters can be used to enhance the landscape, but I have to agree if not used properly they detract from the view and the final photo, rather than enhance it. Your waterfall photo is beautiful.

  3. Gorgeous photos and a well thought out post. i agree on the sunrises and sunsets. Around where I am, it is sunny so often, so great sunset shots are hard to come by, but when they do… :) Great post!

  4. I love the fact that you showed the two photos for comparison; if one picture is worth a thousand words . . .

  5. I always enjoy your articles and your style of writing.

  6. @ Luis, thank you for stopping by and commenting. Also, thank you for the kind words.

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