Mark Williams wrote:
Anyone knows any secret agent ways to predict firey sunrise/sunsets? Would have loved to have been ready for Manhattan from Jersey yesterday... Magnificent!!!
The reason sunrises and sunsets are dramatic and colourful is a matter of the angle of incidents and the position of the sun at those times of day as well as relative colour temperatures. At sunrise and sunset, the sunlight is filtering through more atmospheric moisture and other particles in the air.
On a clear day at noontime, the Kelvin temperature can be as high as 12.000 degrees. At sunset and sunrise, it can drop as low as 3100K- below the temperature of a tungsten flood lamp. So if the camera's white balance is set for daylight the dominant colours will be reds, yellows and orange shades. If there are some clearing or gathering stormclouds, they will provide dramatic dark elements. If there's significant air pollution, the airborne particles' spectral properties can yield some crazy colours.
When I lived in New York City, the best sunsets were captured from the Williamsburg Bridge facing the Upper Manhatta Skyline due to the exhaust from the sugar refining factory on the Brooklyn side of the East River- kind azure blue and chartreuse/greenish. The Kosciuszko Bridge was a great place for wild skyscapes. There was a factory on the Long Island City side that rendered down fat to make explosives. Also the Con-Ed power station at the end of 14ths street- you could look into the sun at high noon and not hurt your eyes. And a trip to Secaucus, New Jersey, back in the day was GANGBUSTERS- I don't know what was manufacturing there but if you could stand the smell, you could get some great sunsets. Possibly, nowadays, the Environmental Protection Agency may have put an end to this artform.
Good sunset/sunrise skyscapes are not hard to do if you follow a few basic concepts. It might be difficult to predict the exact weather conditions that will provide the aesthetics you want but changing weather like oncoming or clearing storms will provide interesting clouds. Steam, smoke, fog, or rising moisture will provide visible rays of light coming through clouds. Foreground elements silhouetted or providing framing add compositional impact.
Exposure is important. Since the sun may be in the frame and can greatly influence meter readings it is important to bracket exposures. At the beginning of sunrises and toward the end of sunsets, the light level changes rapidly. Apertures such as f/22 or f/32 may introduce some interesting star effects.
White balance setting will influence colours and saturation as well. If you use auto-white balance or compensate for the low colour temperature your results will be less dramatic or possibly "colder".
If you are planning a shot from a certain vantage point, get there earlier, make a progression of exposures, and hang in there till twilight- you may get somethg very special and have a wide variety of choices.
Murphy's law of sunsets, etc. The best opportunities arise as you are speeding along a turnpike and expressway and can not safely stop to shoot. Or. you get the most outstanding sunset on this side of heaven and the only thing in the foreground is a garbage dump or a junkyard. Worse- all things are perfect but you have no camera- not even a cellphone!