Expert Tips to Get the Best Aerial Photography Results at Sunrise and Sunset

Drone U
Drone U
Jul 19, 2018 · 4 min read

Recently Erik, a Drone U community member commented on our blog post, “How to make the most out of your ND filter”. Like most experienced photographers and drone pilots, Erik knows that he can capture some awesome shots by shooting at sunrise or sunset. But, he wondered if there is any difference in the quality of light that you see at sunrise compared to sunset. Great question. So, we decided to dive deeper in order to answer Erik’s question.


Why Is Sunrise and Sunset the Best Time for Aerial Photography?

“Ô, Sunlight! The most precious gold to be found on Earth.” ~ Roman Payne

So, this was the first question that I researched. We know that the golden hours give us an opportunity to capture some of our best shots.

A scientific phenomenon called Rayleigh scattering is responsible for the lovely skies that you see at sunrise and sunset. When the sun is directly over us, the rays have to travel a shorter distance and hence, go through less air volume in order to reach us. However, at sunrise and sunset, the distance between the sun and earth increases. This means that sun rays need to travel a greater distance — and go through more air volume. Because of this, sun rays at sunrise and sunset are scattered much more.

Now, colors such as violet and blue have a shorter wavelength. And they tend to scatter much more. So, by the time sun rays reach the earth’s surface, these colors with shorter wavelengths have already scattered out. Which allows us to experience the magnificent yellows, reds and oranges at sunrise and sunset.

Generally speaking, the light at golden hours is softer. This results in higher contrast, longer shadows and more depth. Shooting when the sun is directly above you will result in harsher shadows.

Pro Tip — If you want to know the precise time of the sunrise or sunset — check out www.1800wxbrief.com or simply ask Siri


Which Is Better for Aerial Photography — Sunrise or Sunset?

Once I had discovered the reason behind the awesomeness of the golden hours, I moved on to the moot question. Is there any difference at all between sunrise and sunset? Could you look at these images and answer tell whether it is a sunrise or sunset?

Near impossible, isn’t it? So, does this mean that the quality of light at sunrise and sunset is one and the same? Well, some folks point out that the colors at sunset are “redder” and “warmer” than those at sunset. And, they attribute this to the pollutants in the air. According to this theory, pollutants contain aerosols which contribute to the redness of the sky. However, if this were correct, we would see some of the most magnificent sunsets in New York or Los Angeles. If anything, too many man-made pollutants tend to spoil your sunset experience. Now natural aerosols are another matter altogether. Volcanic eruptions contain natural aerosols which results in the most magnificent reddish hues — and some awesome photographic opportunities.

Natural aerosols from volcanic eruptions help enhance the reddish hues at sunset

One advantage of shooting in the morning is the opportunity to capture fog and mist. Fog dissipates as the sun rises causing temperatures to shoot up.

You can capture your best shots at misty sunrises

Shooting at sunrise also gives you additional buffer. In case you mess up your morning shots, you can always go out at sunset and re shoot.


The Best Time of the Year for Aerial Photography

Shooting in winter is the best time for aerial photography. A drop in temperature results in reduction of image noise — which results in greater image clarity. Image noise is defined as the “random variation of brightness or color variation”. More noise results in a grainy look which is not at all pleasant to look at.

Pro Tip — Make sure that you keep your batteries warm if you plan on flying in cold weather

“Clouds come floating into my life, no longer to carry rain or usher storm, but to add color to my sunset sky.” ~ Rabindranath Tagore

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