How to predict an epic sunrise or sunset

Fiery Sunset at Skidoo Mill | Death Valley, California | © Kitty Singsuwan

I try to remain optimistic when I’m out during sunrise or sunset. (It’s cool just to be there, working on my landscape photography.) But a part of me feels a little disappointed when the sky doesn’t light up with color. I know there’s color grading and light painting and other editing techniques, but I prefer the real deal. Who doesn’t?

So I did a little digging to find out if you can predict epic sunrises and sunsets in advance. Turns out you can… kinda.

The method I’m about to describe isn’t 100% accurate (more like 60%), but it’s better than nothing.

Even if this gives you enough information to not waste a trip, that’s fine, too 😂

When it comes to forecasting epic sunrises or sunsets for your landscape compositions, you want to look for two conditions in your weather or sky app:

1 – High cloud cover
Cirrus and altocumulus clouds, that are high in the sky, are what catch the color – the vivid reds, pinks, and oranges. You want high clouds at your desired location when you’re there.

2 – Gap in the distance
In order to catch color, there needs to be a gap in the clouds – to the east for sunrise, and west for sunset – for light to come through. If you don’t have a gap in the distance, you won’t get color. If you have a gap at your location, and high clouds in the distance, you also won’t get color.

Given the angle of the sun during sunrise & sunset, the gap needs to be in the distance, with high clouds at your location.

There are a few other things to consider, but this pretty much sums it up.

Alright, time to test some sky prediction apps ☁️☀️

Until next time,
K