The Quality of Light around Sunrise and Sunset - dummies

The Quality of Light around Sunrise and Sunset

By Thomas Clark

The sunrise and sunset produce a direct, hard light source, but when the sun is behind the horizon, it produces a much softer type of light. And the lower it is beneath the horizon, the less directional it appears in photographs.

If you compose a shot at the end of the day and wait for the sun to set, you can begin shooting with dusk lighting. You’ll notice as time passes that you gradually have to increase your exposure values (because the light continues to get darker), and the light on your subject continues to appear softer.

The photograph shows an example of an image taken just after the sun went below the horizon line and another image taken just five minutes later. Notice the differences in the two images. The quality of light becomes softer and less directional as the sun sinks. If you’re a morning person, try this experiment in reverse at sunrise rather than at sunset.

When you take pictures at sunrise or sunset, you capture images with a very warm color temperature. The angle at which sunlight passes through our atmosphere causes this warmth. When the sun is behind the horizon line, the light becomes cooler in color temperature (making it less orange, and more blue). The farther the sun is beneath the horizon, the bluer the light becomes.

You can use the color of dusk and dawn lighting to your advantage to create images with specific looks or moods. However, if you’re looking to capture the quality of this type of light without having the color shifts in your images, you can create a custom white balance to correct the colors.


100mm, 1/15, f/11, 400    100mm, 1/8, f/11, 400