I usually get better light at sunrise (compared to sunset). I do though hate to wake up early in the morning to use that light ;)

What are the biggest differences between sunrise and sunset?

  • 2
    The "Which one do you prefer?" part beggs of a discussion. If you wish to chat about the merits of sunrise and sunset, and discuss personal preferences, a better place to do it would be the Photographic Memories chat. There is a link to it on our sidebar. -->
    – jrista
    Apr 29, 2011 at 0:30
  • 3
    I'm glad you asked this question as I was witness to a sunrise on Monday for the first time in quite a few years, and I was actually surprised at how different it was in character (being notably cooler, and brighter in intensity). I had always considered the two fairly symmetrical.
    – Matt Grum
    Apr 29, 2011 at 0:30

9 Answers 9


Sunrise light is cooler (color temperature-wise) because there are less particles in the air, which is what gives sunsets their multicoloured nature.

  • 1
    These particles in the air coming from traffic pollution, industrial complexes, power stations etc.
    – nchpmn
    Apr 29, 2011 at 0:02
  • 1
    most of which work 24/7...
    – jwenting
    Apr 29, 2011 at 6:52
  • 6
    Yes, but the thermals generated by the sun warming up the land cause the particles to rise into the air more actively. They tend to settle in the night when it cools. Apr 29, 2011 at 7:18
  • 2
    The coldest part of the 24 hour day is just before sunrise, which has a variety of effects.
    – labnut
    Apr 29, 2011 at 11:20
  • I suspect that really depends on geography more than anything else. A thermal effect would definitely be more pronounced in the evening, but if your location has stronger night/morning winds, or if you are on a coast line, those circumstances will have much larger effect on the particulates in the air and thus the color of the light than any minor thermal-based effect.
    – Tom Dibble
    Jul 6, 2017 at 17:47

Sunrise can be a better time to shoot for few reasons too:

  • There are considerably less people about if you are shooting scenery, landscape and/or nature shots.

  • There is often moisture about which can potentially be used to create some unique images .. check out http://www.thetrueshot.com/Photographs/Pages/Drops_Of_Life.html#0 which was shot early in the morning to catch a dew drop before it dried in the sun.

  • The images from sunrise are often not seen by most people due to the time of day. Yes, it can be a pain to get up very early, especially in the summer months, but sometimes getting up at 4am can provide great results that no one else has ... http://www.thetrueshot.com/Photographs/Pages/Sunrise.html#10

These factors will certainly help to make them more unique and hence more marketable if you happen to be selling them.

Personally I shoot at both sunrise and sunset time of the day, as each has its own unique qualities. I find sunset very colourful and the ability to include people in the image can add interest too.


The sun is in a different place!

I know, that sounds obvious, but, as someone living in a coastal city, I though it ought to be mentioned. In the east, if you want the sun over the ocean, that's a sunrise. If you want a sunset over the water, you need to find a west coast. (Any continent will do.)

Of course, this extends to non-oceanic photos as well. The light in many landscapes is rooted in geography. The morning sun and evening sun show the same mountains very differently -- not in the same human-schedule way a city street may be transformed (working class people early in the morning, yuppie parents with kids during the day, and then the nightlife) -- but still, uniquely.

  • 1
    West coasts don't have to be on the west side of the continent. You can find west coasts in places like Florida, Latvia, India, and lots of islands all over the world. Some also have the added plus of an east coast.
    – Skaperen
    Sep 1, 2012 at 20:59
  • Also on south-facing and north-facing beaches, the sun coming in from the left will give a different "feel" to a picture than one coming in from the right.
    – Tom Dibble
    Jul 6, 2017 at 17:52

Sunrise is near the coolest part of the day. As a result, it typically has less wind, and thus less dust. Also, it tends to have somewhat less moisture in the ground than would otherwise be there.

All of this causes a few unique affects

  1. There will be somewhat reduced haze, making images appear sharper.
  2. The lesser amounts of dust will make the sunrise somewhat cooler in color temperature.
  3. Most likely, there will be somewhat lower levels of pollutants, because not as much stuff is used earlier in the morning.

All of these add to a unique look for sunrise.

I'm going to spare you the details about the location of where the sun is when the sunrise/set occurs.


Sunrise shots can require more scouting ahead of time, because you are getting someplace in dark or twilight and it can be difficult to visualize how light will strike the area when it comes up.

Sunset gives you the luxury of having more time to analyze the scene in front of you on the spot, and is I think easier to visualize how the sun will shift as it goes down.

Also, after a lot of shooting both sunrise and sunset it seems like the light stays more "interesting" for longer around sunrise (both before and after) than sunset. I'm not sure why this is, but after a lot of different shoots it sure seems like I have a lot more time to spend on a sunrise than sunsets in general.

The light that first comes up at sunrise is often quite sharp compared to a sunset though, and can really cut through haze.


Due to temperatures at sunrise, low fog is more common, allowing you to take pictures like this one.


Sunrise and Sunset are also very different when it comes to shadows and back light.

Never forget that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. Therefore the shadows and light will be a completely different although in both cases the sun is low over the horizon.

So if you want to have the sun in your picture and you are on an east coast beach you have to get up early if you like it or not :-)


Most humans need much more convincing for participating in a shoot during sunrise than during sunset. Applies to models, stylists, assistants etc. On the other hand, wildlife is usually more active during sunrise.

If you need to have a natural-light shot made in a certain day, shooting during sunrise leaves you a second chance in case something goes wrong. In case of a sunset, being late means too late.

Chances of catching rays shining through mist are higher in mornings.


Light from the sun enters the earth’s atmosphere and encounters a plethora of obstacles. The atmosphere is jam-packed with water vapor and dust plus a variety of additional materials. The solar light rays skip over some, depending on their size. Many are hit by light photons. Collisions scatters and filters the light. The blue sky you love and adore is due to the fact that blue and violet light rays, because they have a shorter wavelength, are more likely to collide and be scattered. The now-dispersed blue and violet are responsible for our blue skies.

When we take pictures during the hours of say 9 AM and 4 PM, our subjects will likely be illuminated from two directions -- direct sun light and blue scatter light. This mix adds a blue cast to our subjects.

Now our atmosphere extends upwards for miles (kilometers). When the sun is low (near the horizon), which happens at sunrise and sunset, the travel distance in the atmosphere is an extra 20 miles (45 kilometers). This added light path distance places more obstacles in the light’s path. This extra distance filters out some of the blue and green, permitting a higher percentage of red light to bathe the earth. Now our photographs replicate the rosy hues of sunset and sunrise.

At sunset, due to the activity of life, more dust and pollutants are present in the atmosphere. Because of this fact, the sunset is more likely intense ruddy or crimson.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge that you have read and understand our privacy policy and code of conduct.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.