Looking for some bright ideas to lighten up your friends’ and followers’ social media feeds? A particular subset of photographers (both amateur and professional) might have just the inspiration you need: it comes in the form of radiant sunsets.
Dubbed “sunset hunters” by Urban Dictionary, these phone-photography pros seek out the best time of day to shoot and share images of the setting sun – on as many platforms as possible. As 189.2 million Instagram posts under the hashtag “sunset” can confirm: photos of incoming twilight are appealing to the masses.
From cotton candy colors to bright, fiery hues, this miracle of nature is (almost) impossible to take a bad picture of.
But what makes for a spectacular sunset shot? Is it an uninterrupted, larger-than-life sunset sky? Is it a coastal nightfall scene, the last light of day emanating from the ocean’s edge? Or is it perhaps a sylvan setting; a descending sun painting vineyards valleys and rolling hills orange and red from behind a distant mountain? That may be impossible to determine. But now’s the time to experiment: autumn and winter sunsets are the most vivid of the year.
“Why is that?” you might ask. If that’s the case, here’s the scientific explanation – and a layman’s version:
Just like the color of the daytime sky, the shade of the sunset is determined by the reflection or refraction of sunlight by small particles in the atmosphere, a process called “scattering.” Light with a shorter wavelength – like blue and purple – is scattered most, which is why we see a blue sky most of the time and especially at noon, when the sun is directly overhead.
At sunset, however, the light from the sun takes a longer path through the atmosphere than during the middle of the day. By the time the light reaches your eye, the blues have already been scattered out, allowing longer wavelength light – like orange and red – to make an appearance.
As the days shorten, wind patterns allow for drier and cleaner air which makes for more brilliant coloration than the sunset-muting summer haze. This is why the approaching autumn and winter seasons are prime for sunset-hunting.
In Sonoma County, we enjoy another sunset-watching perk: there are fewer light-scattering dust and pollution particles in the air than in more populous cities. In other words, there are extra colorful sunsets to capture.
If your expectations are now sky-high, the brightest idea may be to start your sunset-hunting career by selecting one or two sunset spots from the above gallery. This way, you avoid the risk of sun setbacks in your Instagram game. Good luck, and may all your photos be brightly-hued and beautiful.
(Finally, if you enjoy getting spaced out by science, consider this: seeing sunsets is a subjective experience. Since our eyes are only sensitive to a fraction of the full spectrum of the sun’s wavelengths, we can only actually perceive certain parts of it. And so, when it comes to sunsets and light, there really is more than what meets the eye… or the lens.)
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