How to Anticipate Good Sunsets

Image: Kodyak Tisch / CC BY 2.0

Sunsets are undeniably one of the most beautiful, and sought-after types of landscape images.

A great sunset can make for some spectacular photos, transforming even the most mundane setting into an otherworldly scene.

Unfortunately though, sunsets are often an all-too-short experience. They appear, and then disappear without leaving much time to head out, set up your camera, and capture some amazing shots. They also tend to be elusive. Simply knowing the time of sunset isn’t enough to guarantee success –all too often you’ll arrive on location, only to find the sun to be obscured behind some dark clouds, or for the light to be boring and lackluster.

The secret to great sunset images is knowing what to look for. Having a good idea about the type of weather and atmospheric conditions that will be present will let you know whether you should head out with your camera. Being prepared ahead of time is also important. By knowing when a sunset is likely to appear –and having a great vantage point scouted out ahead of time, you’ll be able to arrive on the scene before the sunset, giving you enough time to set your camera up and ready to take some amazing images.

With photography, being prepared is half the journey, and this is certainly the case with sunsets. If you’d like to transform your sunset images, here’s how you can anticipate great evening light, and get yourself on location before the drama begins to unfold.

→ Related reading: Tips for Better Sunset Photography

1. Find a Location

First, you’ll want to have a location in mind before you go. Not only will this give you a chance to find a place that offers a great vantage point, it also allows you to find a setting that has plenty of interesting features that you can include in the foreground. Even more importantly though this also gives you a chance to find a spot that will afford a great view of the sun as it sets. When choosing your site, it’s important to be aware of the direction that the sun will set in, and keep that in mind when scouting out a vantage point.

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→ Related reading: How to Find the Perfect Photography Location Using Google Earth

How to Anticipate Good Sunsets

Image: Kodyak Tisch / CC BY 2.0

2. Watch the Clouds

Clouds are an important part of a dramatic sunset. Not only do they add interest to your sky, high clouds reflect the beautiful colors of the light, creating a beautiful display. Of course, not all clouds are created equal. Looking for the right type of clouds is important. Clouds that are too low may block the sun, and dark clouds won’t reflect the beautiful, fiery light. Too much cloud cover though, can also be detrimental. For instance, if the clouds are too thick, there won’t be much to see. The best clouds are wispy, high cirrus clouds, or puffy cumulus clouds. Interesting clouds that are dispersed and scattered throughout the sky will be more fun to photograph, and will make for some great images.

How to Anticipate Good Sunsets

Image: Oliver Clarke / CC BY 2.0

3. Note the Wind Speed

Some gentle wind can result in some great opportunities for beautiful images. A change in wind can cause the clouds to create some unique patterns –which can be amazing for sunsets, as long as it doesn’t push the clouds out of the way entirely. A weather app can help you predict if the cloud cover will be moving in or out when the sun begins to set. If you do have wind at sunset, consider using a long exposure to capture soft, streaky clouds.

How to Anticipate Good Sunsets

Image: Jonathan Combe / CC BY 2.0

4. Check the Atmospheric Conditions

As a general rule, the more particles that are in the air, the more vibrant and bright the colors of the sunset will tend to be. This means that high humidity, dust particles, and even pollution can make for some bright colors. Use a website like Intellicast to check the atmospheric conditions and look at air quality and humidity –you can also use this site to check cloud cover and wind speed.

How to Anticipate Good Sunsets

Image: Ryan Lea / CC BY 2.0

5. Look for Storms

Another excellent time for sunsets is just after a storm. The dramatic clouds that are found following a storm can result in a beautiful light show –and a spectacular opportunity for capturing bright, bold colors as the sun goes down. If you have the privilege of capturing a sunset shortly after a storm, you will be in for a real treat.

→ Related reading: Tips for Photographing Storms

How to Anticipate Good Sunsets

Image: Mark Freeth / CC BY 2.0

6. Watch the Weather Patterns

No two sunsets are ever the same, but if there was a great sunset one night, and the weather is similar the following day –you may be in for a repeat performance that evening. Keep an eye on the cloud conditions and the weather to gauge whether there’s likely to be a beautiful light show again at sunset.

How to Anticipate Good Sunsets

Image: Jonathan Combe / CC BY 2.0

7. Invest In an App

If you’re serious about sunset photography, you may also want to invest in an app that’s specifically designed to predict when there will be a great sunset. One such helpful tool is the Photographer’s Ephemeris, which uses as satellite weather information and topography to help predict great sunsets, their times, and the best locations for capturing them. This tool can also determine cloud type and height. Once you feel there’s a good chance for a great sunset, make sure you arrive on location a bit early to set up your camera.

→ Related reading: Picture-Perfect Planning: The Photographer’s Ephemeris

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How to Anticipate Good Sunsets

Image: Jonathan Combe / CC BY 2.0

8. Wait It Out

Finally, if you get a beautiful sunset, don’t rush home right after. Instead, stick around for at least 15 minutes after the sun dips below the horizon. Often, you’ll be treated to a beautiful light show that may even be more spectacular than the sunset itself.

→ Related reading: Guide to Blue Hour Photography

How to Anticipate Good Sunsets

Image: Stenly Lam / CC BY 2.0

While there’s no way that you’ll be able to predict spectacular sunsets each and every time, by using a combination of technology, and good old-fashioned experience and instinct, you can get a pretty good idea about when there’s a great sunset on the horizon –and will be able to get into position to capture some great shots as it unfolds.

Do you enjoy capturing sunsets? How do you predict when there will be a good one?

Photo license link: CC BY 2.0

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