When I look at photos of sunrise respectively sunset and do not know the cardinal direction I'm not able to identify if this photo was taken on sunrise or sunset. So I ask myself the question is there a way to determine? Maybe color temperature of sky, color of the sun or something like this (consider photo no color shifts by post processing).

  • 4
    \$\begingroup\$ With a digital image, EXIF timestamp would be my first thing to look for. \$\endgroup\$
    – Imre
    Mar 20, 2014 at 7:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Philip Kendall: Yes it a duplicate - you are right. Didn't found this question while searching :-/ Thanks for hint. \$\endgroup\$
    – Micha
    Mar 20, 2014 at 8:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ No problem - it'll probably get closed as a duplicate in a while, although I think this is actually close enough that a mod could merge the two questions entirely. \$\endgroup\$
    – Philip Kendall
    Mar 20, 2014 at 9:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ You can often see this when a film is shot at dawn, but the scene is supposed to be taking place at dusk (dawn lasts longer making it easier to get the shot right right in one day.) There tends to be a cooler, blue tint to the sky at dawn and a warmer, red tint at dusk. \$\endgroup\$
    – CLockeWork
    Mar 20, 2014 at 11:33

2 Answers 2


It is indeed difficult, if not impossible, to tell at times. Here's a list a strategies I might use to tell the difference:

  • Look for contextual clues. Even a tiny recognizable feature could reveal the cardinal direction.
  • Atmospheric clarity. During a sunrise, the dust has had time to settle at night, making the sky clearer than at sunset, where there is a lot of particulate matter. You might be able to find minute differences in this and, combined with other factors, make a determination.
  • Tilt of the Earth. This requires that you have at least two photos from the same sequence but with enough time in between that the sun has had a chance to move significantly. In the northern hemisphere, the sun rises up and toward the right, while it sets down and toward the right (which is the opposite since if you interpreted this as a sunrise, the sun would appear to rise up and toward the left). The reverse is true for the southern hemisphere. This requires knowing which hemisphere you're in, and ideally far away from the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn.

Source: http://www.livescience.com/34065-sunrise-sunset.html

  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks so far for interesting facts and the link. Indeed helpful. +1 for that. \$\endgroup\$
    – Micha
    Mar 20, 2014 at 7:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ "Enough time" might be less than you think. In a lot of hdr scenarios, even a minute is already so much that I can notice the misalignment of the sun, when shooting with tripod and enough zoom. \$\endgroup\$
    – PlasmaHH
    Mar 20, 2014 at 14:03

AFAIK, if there is a body of water in the picture, it would be more still during sunrise than sunset because the cooler temperatures of the night results in less wind.

From Scott Kelby's, The Digital Photography Book (the first)

Another advantage of shooting at dawn (rather than at sunset) is that water (in ponds, lakes, bays, etc.) is more still at dawn because there’s usually less wind in the morning than in the late afternoon. So, if you’re looking for that glassy mirror-like reflection in the lake, you’ve got a much better shot at getting that effect at dawn than you do at dusk.

  • \$\begingroup\$ But how can you tell from a photo if it's "more still" than in some other photo which you don't have? And the wind may have died down during the day anyway... \$\endgroup\$
    – Philip Kendall
    Mar 20, 2014 at 9:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ @PhilipKendall - of course you cannot say anything for sure. But a completely still body of water can indicate that there is a probability that it is taken at dawn. \$\endgroup\$
    – Pete
    Mar 20, 2014 at 11:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ I added a quote from Scott Kelby which I think is probably my own source of this piece of information. \$\endgroup\$
    – Pete
    Mar 20, 2014 at 12:29

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