In search of a colorful sunset

Several years ago, after we moved from Texas back to New York, my daughter and I made the trip by car in order to complete the move. As we traveled further north and east, I noticed that not only were there more trees, they got taller and darker green. As much as I loved living in Texas, having cool green forests in the summertime was a welcome change. But… living in a house that’s surrounded by all these lovely tall trees means that I have to leave the house and travel a little way to check the skies for a colorful sunset. (Granted, “travel” means going to the end of a long driveway to look, but that takes some amount of effort anyway.)

Kayak at Sunset

Golden light, dull sky

So from time to time over this past year, I have had the thought, “this is a beautiful evening! I should take a sunset photo!” And I’ve followed all the advice: I’ve scouted the location, brought the tripod, set up the camera with a low ISO and long exposure, and have been rewarded with very nice pictures of very dull sunsets.

I’ve looked all over online to try to find out what makes good conditions for colorful sunsets. I’ve been sure to include a smattering of clouds. I’ve read that having some pollution helps, but I guess I’m happy enough that that doesn’t enter into the local recipe. There must be some other missing ingredient? I have managed to get some golden light on relatively close subjects. I’ve also managed to see beautiful multi-colored sunsets when I was either unprepared or in a less-than-ideal location. I’m just hoping someone can fill me in on the right conditions, so that I can have my camera ready. Suggestions appreciated!

Sunset at White Lake

Blue and white sunset



  1. Barbara,
    I’m no “sunset photo expert”, but it seems to me that there are several factors for getting a great sunset photo, and only SOME of them you have control over:

    1) Being at the right place – Some locations just have eye-popping sunsets, and others don’t

    2) Being there at the right moment – The difference between a spectacular photo and a so-so-sunset may be only 5 minutes

    3) The weather – It seems that you need clouds to get underlit, but no clouds at the horizon (this is a challenge in the SF Bay Area, where the sun often sets behind fog, so the light just slowly dims without the dramatic underlit moment)

    4) Manual Settings – Sunsets may pass quickly, but not SO quickly that you don’t have time to use the manual settings. Bracketing is good, but experimenting is even better – and there’s no way your meter has any artistic sensibility on its own

    Those are my “tips for the day” (or evening, as the case may be).

    – Jim

    Photo along the foothills of the Rockies, just south of Denver:

  2. Jim had some great ideas, all I have to add is just having your camera with you! 🙂

    But I’ve found that sunrises and sunsets in the winter can be lovely. (And no mosquitoes!) It might matter where you live, but ours can be a lovely soft pink, and there is something extra special with the sparkly ice crystals in the morning. Good luck!

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