How to Capture Sunset Photos No One Else Has

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When the sun is setting, light travels longer through the atmosphere than it would during daytime. As a result, air molecules can scatter more light than usual. The result? We see a new part of the color spectrum—with yellows, oranges, and reds. Grab your camera – here’s how to capture sunsets like you’ve never seen before.

1. Unleash Your Inner Volcanologist

When a volcano bursts, it coughs up tons of ash, gas, and glassy particles. As all that junk rises high into the atmosphere, it diffracts sunlight. (Sulfur dioxide aerosols also scatter the sun’s rays.) With all those wavelengths being blocked, sunsets become unusually intense.

2. Get in Season

Fall and winter are the best seasons for sunset watching. The air is cleaner and dryer, unlike summer, when a pesky haze can dull nature’s light show. Clean air also explains why you see so many awesome sunsets in the tropics, where air pollution is practically nil.

3. Get Fired Up

Contrary to what you might have been told, haze and smog make sunsets duller. In fact, heavy smog can scatter so much light that dusky skies can become a sad and dreary gray. That’s because large particles hanging in the atmosphere can mute and muddy the colors. Controlled wildfires, however, can release just enough smoke into the atmosphere to create a unique orange glow that turns the setting sun into a blood red ball.

4. Find the Green Flash

In extremely clean air, a bright green streak may briefly glow over the disc the second the sun sets. A mirage refracts the sun’s light so much that we see, very briefly, the green end of the spectrum! You’re going to have to sit it out for a while, though. They’re incredibly rare (and easier to see from a west-bound airplane).

5. Exploit the Alpenglow

If you live near mountains, turn your back to the sunset. As the sun dips below the horizon, a horizontal band of glowing red light might swallow the peaks. It’s called alpenglow, and it occurs when light bounces off airborne ice particles low in the atmosphere.

6. Get Your Head in the Clouds

Think of clouds as big, puffy projection screens. Colors will splash right off them. The most colorful clouds hang high in the sky—like cirrus and altocumulus clouds—because they drift above the boundary layer where haze sits. Storm clouds are great, too. When a storm leaves town, a slanted band of clouds usually follows. The peculiar slant will spread the sun’s color in incredible ways.

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