Why sunrises are more amazing in winter

December 16, 2014, 11:54 a.m.
dog at sunrise

When it comes to getting great sunrise and sunset photos, perhaps the best time of year to find success is during winter. There are two reasons why the winter months offer up the greatest opportunities. The first reason is that the sun rises later and sets earlier so you don't have to get up at a frighteningly early hour or stay out past dinner time to capture the beauty. The second reason is a bit more scientific.

The colors of a sunrise or sunset are based on how light is entering and traveling through the atmosphere. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration tells us that dust and pollution particles in the air scatter light and reduce how much makes it to the ground, and thus reduces the intensity of colors at sunrise and sunset. So, when it's hazy out, the sunrise or sunset colors will be more muted. When the air is crisp and clear, these twilight hours will offer up more vibrant colors. NOAA states, "Because air circulation is more sluggish during the summer, and because the photochemical reactions which result in the formation of smog and haze proceed most rapidly at that time of the year, late fall and winter are the most favored times for sunrise and sunset viewing over most of the United States. Pollution climatology also largely explains why the deserts and tropics are noted for their twilight hues: air pollution in these regions is, by comparison, minimal."

If you've been looking for a good time to take up sunrise photography, or even just to take in the sun rise as a wonderful way to start your day, now is your chance! Here are some tips for making sure you don't miss it:

  • Download an app like Rise or bookmark a website like Time And Date so you can see not only when sunrise will happen but also when first light will happen in your area. It changes constantly, of course, so you'll want to check daily.
  • Set your alarm for enough time to wake up, dress, and get outside to a nice location when first light begins. Pack a mug of coffee or tea, or a small snack, if you need a little breakfast while you're out.
  • Try to be in a place where you can stand still and just watch, listen, and take deep breaths while the sun comes up over the horizon. Try to be there 5 minutes before the day's sunrise moment. It happens fast, so take a few minutes to just be still and everything in.
  • Scout out different locations and try to see the sunrise from different views. You never know what each morning will bring!
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