One minute there were no clouds, it looked like it was going to be a dud, then the sky turned the most gorgeous pink and purple with a whiff of clouds that came out of nowhere in between.
Sunsets. They can be wonderfully serene and beautiful and nature’s beauty and all. But they can also be quite infuriating, because they are relatively unpredictable, and they don’t much care about photographing mothers.
It is a great misfortune that most of my days sunsets coincide with dinner, bath time, laundry, school notes, homework, brushing teeth, feeding the dog, reading and good-night kisses.
That is summer. Sunsets are just way too late, by the time the sun slowly goes down at the horizon I’m all buggered out and nothing will get me off the couch anymore and in the car, lugging my gear with me down to some spot at the lake to capture the skies hues. Obviously winter is pretty much the opposite, when it’s getting dark pretty much right after we just got in from the school run, but still I have managed a few lovely shots. Autumn and spring are my prime time for shooting sunsets. The batteries are always charged and the camera bag packed and everything ready to go.
I looked it up and, as expected, there are no scientific foolproof guidelines for determining whether it will be a great sunset (or sunrise for that matter). However, here are some things that I have learnt over time:
1. Skies are usually more interesting when there are a few clouds about, especially high clouds like cirrus or cumulus clouds. They do reflect the colours better and make the sky more interesting. Clear skies can give nice sunsets, but it is more of an afterglow and there are not that many colours.
2. Clear atmosphere with low humidity (colder months) generally gives more pinks and crisper colours. Also after rain, the sky looks better. It has to do with particles in the atmosphere. The big hazy sun ‘ball’ occurs more during warmer months when it hasn’t rained for a long time and there are more particles in the air, but also when it is very humid.
3. Be clear whether you are after the ‘sunset’ or the ‘golden hour’ or ‘twilight’ shots. Different things.
4. If bad weather is predicted for that evening or night or the coming day it could be great sunset. So listen to the weather forecast.
5. Sometimes bushfires can give an interesting tinge to a sunset. But since bushfire skies are unfortunately something Australians are just too familiar with I stay away from that.
6. If today is a cold day and tomorrow is supposed to be a much warmer day, the sky will almost always be red at sunset.
7. Don’t pack up too early. You’re already there, twenty minutes more won’t make a difference now. Stay and wait till the very end. Some of my best shots happened literally in the last 20 seconds before the sun was gone.
8. Always take one more piece of clothing that you expected to need. Warm socks and shoes in winter, I have had some soup with me some times. Mozzy repellant in summer and after rain, otherwise they might carry your camera away
These are the cues I have learnt for my area, which is between a large lake and the ocean. Obviously it will be different everywhere. Best advice is to keep checking the skies and if it is not pouring with rain and you have planned to go out and shoot, just go and do it. You’ll never know what’ll happen. Be grateful if it is great, this is nature after all. If not, well, find peace in the fact that you are not alone in this pursuit of the perfect sunset.