Are you a photographer or lover of sunsets and sunrises, and looking for sunrise sunset predictor websites and apps on how to predict a good sunrise or sunset? You’ve come to the right place. As a photographer myself, I love chasing sunrises and sunsets and the colours and lights that come with it – whether it’s the soft cotton candy pink clouds, or the more vibrant oranges and reds that give the sky a real burn. Getting to experience incredible sunrises and sunsets can be a very special moment, and it’s great when you get to capture them on camera.
But sunsets and sunrises are definitely not all created equal. They can often be unpredictable too – you can have a wonderful sunny day and a rubbish sunset, or you can have a really cloudy day yet have a fantastic banger sunset that unexpectedly fills the sky with colour. Wouldn’t it be great if we could see in advance what the sunrise or sunset was going to look like?! We’ve all been guilty of thinking a sunset will be epic and spending time to get somewhere beautiful to photograph it, only for it to be a letdown and totally void of colour and we feel bad that we wasted our time.
Yet then we see others on Instagram who constantly seem to be posting epic sunrise and sunset shots, and wonder how do they always get lucky, or is there something else they know that we don’t? How do they know when it will be a good sunrise or sunset – is it just down to luck, or is there a way to actually predict it?
You’ll be happy to know it’s certainly not down to luck. And you don’t need to be a meteorologist to predict whether it will be a good sunrise/sunset or not – you can actually learn yourself how to predict it just by looking at a few simple weather factors!
SUNRISE PREDICTOR: HOW TO PREDICT A GOOD SUNRISE OR SUNSET
Fortunately there are predictor apps and websites available that can help us to predict if it will be a good sunrise or sunset. These apps all aim to predict how colourful or vibrant the sunrise or sunset colours will be during golden hour. Whilst these apps are incredibly useful and can be huge time savers to predict whether a sunrise/sunset is worth chasing or leaving (who wants to wake up for sunrise early only to discover there was so many clouds on the horizon that no sunrise occurred), don’t take their data as gospel and base your photography decisions solely on what the apps say.
Aim to check the sunrise/sunset predictor apps/websites a day or two before you’re planning to go and shoot. You may even like to check them in the morning and at night to ensure you never miss anything! Remember that forecasts can often change, so even if it says it looks great in a few days time, always check closer to the time (eg: just before you go to bed if you plan to wake up early for sunrise!).
What Actually Makes Sunrises and Sunsets Have Different Colours?
Before we look at the sunrise and sunset predictor apps, let’s first understand why sunrises and sunsets are actually coloured in the first place.
Colourful sunsets and sunrises are due to Rayleigh scattering, which is an effect from quantum mechanics. When the light from the sun enters the Earth’s atmosphere, the red wavelengths of light do not get scattered, whereas the blue ones do.
This is why during the day the sky looks blue: the blue scattered light only needs to travel a short distance through the atmosphere as during daylight, sunlight travels a shorter distance through the atmosphere.
When the sun is low on the horizon (during sunrise and sunset), the light that comes through the atmosphere is more red. The sunlight has to travel further through the atmosphere at this time, so you can see all the longer wavelength reds in the sky as they are scattered over a longer distance. The red light is scattered at a lower rate than blue light, which makes the red hues in the sky brighter at sunset and sunrise.
When there are purple hues at sunrise or sunset it means there is still enough blue light, which combines with the red light to produce purple.
What Makes A Good Sunrise Or Sunset?
The most important factor in determining if there will be a great sunrise or sunset or not is the clouds.
- the height of the clouds
- the thickness of the cloud cover
- the type of clouds in the sky.
Understanding cloud cover, height and cloud types will really help you to understand and predict whether the sunrise or sunset colour vibrancy will be a banger or a flop.
But the vibrant colours in a sunset or sunrise aren’t only determined by clouds. In addition you will need to look at the atmospheric conditions. There are a variety of other factors that will affect the sunrise or sunset such as:
- wind speed and direction
- storm fronts
- air cleanliness
If the wind is strong it can clear the sky of all cloud cover and therefore colour. Clean air is important for producing colourful sunrises and sunsets, so the wind can impact this if it blows in pollution, smoke or dirty air into the vicinity.
As much as the wind can work against our favour, it can also work in out favour to enhance a great sunset/sunrise. The wind can blow away heavy cloud cover and produce a more optimal cloud cover for a spectacular sunset or sunrise. The wind is the most unpredictable factor in determining if a sunrise/sunset will be good or not, so if there is mid to strong winds, this is what can make the prediction process more difficult. If there is little to no wind, it makes the prediction process a lot simpler.
Dry and clear atmospheric conditions increase the chances of a good sunrise or sunset. Clean air does a really good job at scattering light. This is also why after a rainfall or thunderstorm you’ll often get spectacular vibrant coloured sunsets as the rain seems to clear the air. However if there is rainfall or a storm front during sunrise/sunset or just before it, it’s likely to create a less than favourable sky.
When there’s less humidity in the air, it will produce a more clear and crisp and therefore dramatic sunrise/sunset. The more moisture that is in the atmosphere, the less vibrant the colours will be. This is because the moisture tends to make it more difficult for the light waves to scatter.
Of course even if there are no clouds, the sunrise or sunset can be nice, but you won’t get the spectacular reds, pinks and oranges in the sky, which come when there are clouds high enough in the sky to catch the light.
Sunset at The Grand Canyon.
SUNRISE PREDICTOR: Cloud Height
High, Middle and Low Clouds – how they help to predict a good sunrise or sunset
There are three levels of clouds:
Having an understanding of the three levels of clouds will make it much easier for you to predict yourself whether you think it will be a good sunrise or sunset.
Generally speaking, middle and high clouds are the ones that will produce the colourful sunrises and sunsets.
The ideal cloud cover you want for a colourful sunrise/sunset is no low clouds, and a level of middle and high clouds (high in particular).
You ideally want low clouds to be as close to 0% as possible.
When there are few or no low clouds on the horizon, it enables the middle and high clouds to catch the light from the sun below the horizon, thus producing a more colourful sunrise or sunset.
If there are a numerous amount of low clouds and it is overcast, they will just block the red light reaching the middle and high clouds, and therefore we won’t be able to see the orange and red colours in the sunset or sunrise.
This isn’t to say that you will never get a colourful sunrise or sunset if there are low clouds present, as it can still happen, especially if the low clouds are broken, but the probability is lower and the length of time there will be colour in the sky is much shorter.
High clouds will produce a more vibrant sunset or sunrise (because they intercept more vivid sunlight). Therefore for an ideal sunrise or sunset, you want a high cloud cover.
Medium height clouds are not as predictable – depending on weather conditions they can have either a positive or a negative impact on the vibrancy and colour.
SUNRISE PREDICTOR: Cloud Cover
The cloud height is important for predicting whether the sunrise or sunset will be good, but also the amount of cloud – or the cloud cover, is important too.
Cloud cover between 30-70% is ideal, as it provides an opportunity for light to shine through. If the cloud cover is low (less than 30%), it makes it extremely hard for red wavelengths to be intercepted and you will struggle to see any red tones in the sunrise/sunset. On the contrary, if the cloud cover is too high (above 70%) and the clouds are too thick, they will prevent the red wavelengths from penetrating them.
SUNRISE PREDICTOR: Cloud Type
A few cloud types are known to be ideal for creating the best light for photographing sunrises and sunsets. These cloud types are all high cloud types.
They can be either typically long, thin, broken and wispy (Cirrus clouds) or fluffy like cotton candy (Cirrocumulus and altocumulus clouds). Both these kinds of clouds produce more colours as the light passes through, so these are the type of clouds you want. They both stretch across the sky and reflect the light very well, so create stunning sunsets and sunrises.
As Cirrus clouds are one of the highest cloud types they often hold the colour the longest during golden hour.
Cirrocumulus clouds will beautifully reflect the sunrise and sunset colours and light up in a variety of warm hues.
Altocumulus clouds have a lot of texture, which makes them look really good in golden hour photos.
Over time, you will start to learn to see patterns between cloud formations and whether it will create a colourful sunrise/sunset, and you’ll get better at predicting it. Sometimes these rules just won’t apply and you’ll get a sunrise or sunset that will catch you by surprise. However the majority of the time (9 times out of 10 I would say), these rules apply and should be used as a sunrise or sunset predictor.
It’s also great to know when it is worth it to wake up early for a spectacular sunrise.
What Is Golden Hour in Photography?
The term ‘Golden Hour’ in photography refers to the period of daytime shortly after sunrise or before sunset, when the daylight is softer and redder than when the sun is higher in the sky. The golden hour relates to the time when you will capture the best light in your photos and is sometimes called the “magic hour”. In terms of nature photography, nothing can beat golden hour. The warm golden and vibrant tones are the preferred time for many people to take photographs.
What Is Blue Hour in Photography?
The Blue Hour is the hour before sunrise and the hour after sunset. The Sky has a blue glow and across the horizon you can often see the pastel colours.
What is the optimal time to photograph sunrises and sunsets?
For taking the best sunrise and sunset pictures, the most vibrant colours in the sky appear typically 15 minutes before the sunrise and 15 minutes after sunset. This is the optimal time to take sunrise/sunset photographs! For this reason it’s important to get somewhere way before the sunrise time (around 30 minutes to 1 hour before if possible), and as soon as the sun sets, don’t disappear but hang around and you’ll see the colours come and the sky explode!
Note that both happen whilst the sun is below the horizon
SUNRISE PREDICTOR: HOW TO PREDICT A GOOD SUNRISE OR SUNSET
The quality of the sunrise or sunset is determined by several factors. Factors that help how to predict if it will be a good sunrise or sunset are:
- Cloud cover: generally sunrise/sunset is best when cloud coverage is between 30-70%. If cloud cover is below 30% there won’t be much colour. If cloud cover is above 90% then the sunrise/sunset will be awful as there will be no colour as there are too many clouds.
- Humidity: sunrise/sunset is best when the humidity is low (but not too low).
- Visibility: the higher the better. Additionally if there is any fog this will decrease the chances of a good sunrise/sunset.
- Rainfall: rainfall during the sunrise or sunset will severely reduce the chances of a good sunrise/sunset. However if there has been rain 2–6 hours before sunrise or sunset this is okay and can still mean it will be good sunrise/sunset colours.
- Wind speed: sunrises/sunsets are best if the wind speed is low or non-existent. High winds move the clouds quickly, thus giving less chance for the colours to come through.
BEST FREE APPS FOR SUNRISE AND SUNSET PREDICTOR
BEST SUNSET PREDICTION WEBSITES & APP
Many photographers will use a combination of apps and websites to predict if it will be a good sunrise or sunset or not.
Below you will find the best sunrise and sunset prediction websites and apps – every app listed is free to download.
Another popular sunrise and sunset predictor app is Sky Candy. Sky Candy looks at your location and provides a timer countdown to sunset, as well as a percentage calculator of the sunrise/sunset quality and how colourful it will be. It has a map and satellite images so you can see exactly which direction the sun is in on any given day, time or location – which is great for photographers who are planning their photoshoots in advance. Plus you can also save your favourite photo spots, and it also tells you the most difficult times to shoot on that day, which can be really useful if you plan to photograph during the day too.
With the free version of Sky Candy you get 3 forecasts per day. If you want to get unlimited forecasts you will need to upgrade to the premium version. With the premium version you can also get alerts when an upcoming sunset or sunrise is expected to be colourful.
Alpenglow is a very simple and straightforward app with just the necessary information of Magic Hour times and the forecast at your current location, as well as a ‘quality prediction’ for sunrise and sunset. This is great for people who don’t want to be reading charts and want to glance at something quickly to know whether the sunrise or sunset will be worth it.
Alpenglow will classify the sunrise or sunset into one of 4 categories: great, good, fair and poor, as well as giving you a percentage. If it is rated great, it means you should expect vibrant sunrise/sunset colours, whereas if it is rated poor it means there will be thick clouds or very little colour.
The app will give you the Magic Hour times (blue hour and golden hour) as well as the exact sunrise and sunset time for that day and the following day.
The Alpenglow app is free, however you can upgrade and pay for Alpenglow Plus or Alpenglow Pro if you wish to unlock additional features. With Alpenglow Plus you can give a ‘tip’ (from $1.49 upwards) to be able to see the information up to 4 days in advance (as opposed to just today and tomorrow in the free version).
If you get Alpenglow Pro you can unlock Forecast Notifications, to get notifications on golden hour or sunrise and sunset in your location Alpenglow Pro includes a 3 day or 7 day free trial (depending if you buy a monthly or yearly subscription).
The free version of Alpenglow should be sufficient for most people.
Magic Hour has a lot more detailed information than the apps mentioned above, despite not having a quality predictor. You will however find a weather forecast, a countdown timer, as well as information for the upcoming sunrise or sunset.
Magic Hour also has ‘moon watch’ information too – it will tell you when the moonrise and moonset will happen, when the next full moon will be, as well as where the moon is in relation to the sun.
MySunset is a good app to get a general idea of what the sunrise or sunset will be like. It has an interactive map with an overlap that shows the forecasted quality of the upcoming sunrises and sunsets. It defaults to your current location, but you can also add custom locations, that will show a forecast percentage of the quality of the sunrise or sunset.
This app is completely free with no in-app purchases, and is a useful tool if you want an idea of what to expect, but other apps are known to be slightly more accurate than this one.
Yr.no is a a great sunrise and sunset predictor website and app that breaks down the cloud heigh and cover into percentages (of high, middle and low clouds) on an easy to understand table. Just enter your location (or nearest location as it doesn’t have everywhere).
Yr.no has an hour-by-hour tab you can click on, and it will give you the % of high, middle and low clouds in 3 columns. This is great if you don’t want to be reading maps and just want figures to look at. Obviously if you see a high % of middle and high clouds, and a low % of low clouds, you should be aiming for a great sunrise or sunset.
SunsetWX is another great sunrise/sunset predictor website (and free app) that provides global sunrise and sunset forecast predictions. There is also a ‘How To’ Guide to help you interpret the data to make it easier for you.
Select the area you want to look at (Europe Map, USA Map or Worldwide Map) and choose either sunrise or sunset. Then you’ll be able to click through the forecast hour to see the map change and view an hourly prediction for the quality of golden hour. It might look complicated at first, but basically the more red, the more vibrant the sunset or sunrise will be.
Windy is a radar based website (also available as an app) that goes into more detail than other websites and is pretty accurate. It covers the total cloud cover, wind, temperature, visibility etc, but we will just focus on cloud cover.
On the panel on your right hand side you’ll see tabs saying radar lightning, wind, rain thunder, temperature, clouds etc. Click on the clouds tab. A drop down menu will show low cloud, fog, cloud base and visibility.
If you click on the low cloud tab, you want to see yellow over your location. Click on the area on the map you want to see sunset/sunrise and it will tell you the % of low cloud there (yellow signals less clouds, blue signals thick clouds and rain).
If you click on the cloud base tab, you want to see green over your location (and will display the height of the clouds). This represents middle and high clouds.
BEST FREE APPS FOR SUNRISE AND SUNSET PREDICTOR IN AUSTRALIA AND NEW ZEALAND
Cloud Free Night
If you are in Australia or New Zealand, Cloud Free Night is a really good website to use. It is powered by an Astrology community and it is extremely accurate at predicting the sunset/sunrise. First selection your region (located on the sidebar menu), then look at the map and meteogram.
The map has a ‘Total Cloud Cover’ option, which shows an entire range of cloud cover for the following few days. You’ll want to look out for middle and high clouds without any low clouds – if you spot these you could be in for a banger sunrise/sunset!
The website has a meteogram of the breakdown of total cloud cover and rain forecasts for the following 2 days, which is very detailed.
Bureau of Meteorology (Australia)
The Australian Bureau of Meterology satellite website shows high-resolution footage from the last 5 hours. It is useful to see the real time cloud coverage, cloud formation and direction.
BEST PAID APPS FOR SUNRISE AND SUNSET PREDICTOR
Skyfire (The Photographer’s Ephemeris) – $8.99
SkyFire is an add-on you can add to The Photographer’s Ephemeris (TPE) app. It ís a subscription service for sunrise and sunset colour forecasting for the upcoming 3 days. Despite being a paid service, Skyfire it is a very popular app in general for photographers. It has very precise calculations for photography and has a proprietary algorithm to determine when the best colour will be seen. If you are not willing to pay this subscription every month, don’t worry as the SunsetWX website provides pretty much the same information but without a subscription fee (it just won’t let you zoom in and out of the map like SkyFire does).
The TPE app (The Photographer’s Ephemeris) is an app used by photographers to plan the natural lighting for their photographs. Many photographers find it a really valuable tool.
The SkyFire add-on for the Photographer’s Ephemeris app evaluates all the weather-related information, then produces a colour-coded map that makes it easy to see where the best sunsets and sunrises will occur. The colour coded map ranges from blue (poor circumstances for a colourful sky at sunset/sunrise) to reds and oranges (great circumstances for a colourful sky at sunset/sunrise).
Wherever you see reds and oranges, it will mean those areas have a very high chance of a colourful sky occurring. Anywhere you see blue will be where the sky is predicted to not be colourful.
With all the sunset/sunrise predictor apps and websites, they are never always 100% accurate – they are all based on certain methodologies (such as weather forecasts, cloud coverage, temperatures, angles etc) to provide as much accuracy as possible, but sometimes the sky unexpectedly does it’s own thing. If it looks like it might be a great sunrise or sunset outside, then go for it even if the app doesn’t think so. Think of the sunrise/sunset predictor apps in the same way as how you view the weather forecast on your phone. The apps are generally fairly accurate, but what you see outside in the sky is always going to be the truth, even if the app is saying different (how often have you had it that the weather forecast on your phone says it’s raining right now, but you look outside and can’t see a drop of rain!). Sometimes clouds can move unexpectedly quick, and I think it’s always better to go out and it not be quite as amazing as you had hoped, than for an unexpected sunrise or sunset to occur and you regret not going out with your camera to photograph it!
In the image above, despite there being some low cloud, it is not thick so the stunning colours were still able to come through this morning on Bondi Beach in Sydney.
Sunset Predictor: Will Tonight Be A Good Sunset?
When working out if the sunset tonight will be good, the main things we need to assess are:
- cloud cover (ideally 30-70%)
- cloud height (ideally no low clouds, and high and middle clouds present)
- low/no wind
- good visibility
- low humidity
- no rainfall.
Use resources such as sunrise/sunset predictor apps and websites to help predict whether it will be good.
Ideal Sunrise/Sunset Conditions:
- high and middle clouds, no low clouds
- cloud coverage between 30-70%
- a range of cloud formations – thin and broken clouds and fluffy clouds in particular!
- if shooting at sunrise, shoot before a storm/rain. If shooting at sunset, shoot after a storm/rain has cleared for the cleanest air and most vibrant colours!
Tips For Photographing Sunrise & Sunset
Now you know how to predict when the sunrise or sunset will be good, you’ll also want to bear in mind a few things when watching them and photographing them:
- One of the biggest mistakes photographers make when shooting sunrise in particular is arriving too late. The best light only lasts for a few minutes so you need to be ready! Show up early, allow yourself time to get set up and find the angle you want to shoot from, as well as think about which lens or filters you will want to use. If it’s possible, aim to arrive about an hour before the sunrise or sunset time. This will enable you to be ready to capture the perfect golden hour photograph!
- Don’t just pay attention to the sunrise/sunset time. The Golden Hour time is more important as this is when you can photograph the most vibrant colours!
- Be patient when you see the vibrant colours of the sunrise or sunset! Make sure to wait around for another 15 minutes or so, as the sun and the angle of the clouds can change and produce even more vibrant colours in the sky!
- Waking up early for sunrise can be really hard, especially in the summer months as the sun rises a lot earlier than in winter! I can’t tell you the amount of times I have pressed snooze on the alarm and missed a stunning sunrise. Set several alarms if you need to, or try to have a friend wake up with you too so it’s not as painful. You can even camp so it’s easier to get up for the sunrise! Get an early night, and you always go for a nap in the day after you’ve finished shooting! Making sure to check the sunrise predictor app just before you go to bed will sure make it easier to get up in the morning, as you know the epic sunrise will make the early wake up worth it!
How To Edit Your Sunrise And Sunset Photographs
If you really want to make your sunrise or sunset photos pop, you’ll want to edit your pictures on Lightroom. You can spend hours editing your sunset photos, or you can edit them in just one click with my Lightroom Presets that are perfect for sunrise and sunset pictures! You can choose from my Mobile Presets or my Desktop Presets if you prefer to edit your pictures on your computer/laptop!
Final Thoughts On How To Predict A Good Sunrise Or Sunset – Predictor
It may seem hard at first to predict whether it will be a good sunrise or sunset, but over time it really becomes easier, especially with the help of the apps and websites mentioned earlier. If you have any questions let me know in the comments below!