Unsplash Photo: Arto Marttinen (Download)

Chasing the Sunset from the Clouds

Unsplash Untold #12—Sunset on the Bay of Bengal

I’m a huge fan of beautiful sunset and sunrise pictures. There’s something about the world being bathed in that red and yellow light that makes everything look extra magical. Even more interesting to me are sunset and sunrise shots taken from the air itself. To have a photo capture what that setting sun looks like from up in the clouds provides an entirely different perspective on both the event and the world as a whole.

One of my favorite sunset photos on Unsplash was taken by contributor Arto Marttinen, and it portrays rolling clouds that look unimaginably large and full of color. I just had to find out where this shot was taken, and hear the story behind it.

Arto is a self-professed ‘sunset chaser’, and describes himself as someone who is always looking for the next setting sun to capture. He noted that most photos which accurately depict these events are full of beautiful clouds, as these allow the light to be refracted and give the entire scene a more vibrant look. In this case, he happened to be at the right place at the right time, and equipped to capture the beauty of the world around him:

This photo was actually shot from airplane window during a flight from Myanmar to Bangladesh over the bay.
The Bay of Bengal and the river delta of Bangladesh has a really special character to it because of the enormous amount of water vapor that’s created every day due to shallow waters and extreme heat. Due to the almost 100% humidity, the sunsets can be really vibrant in color as the sunlight diffracts from tiny water particles in the air. The rising vapor also creates massive cloud formations which are really majestic to photograph.
I knew that I was on the right side for the upcoming sunset but I was pretty tired from the last night so I took a nap and suddenly woke up to this gorgeous sight. My heart literally skipped a beat as I immediately got up to get the camera.

I have experienced a moment like this a few times myself — seeing something pass by, on a plane or train, and knowing that there’s only a moment or two before it’s gone forever. Luckily, Arto didn’t miss it.

As always I had my Sony A7sII camera with 24–240 f3.5–6.4 OSS superzoom lens with me. In moving vehicles such as trains, cars, and airplanes, a tripod is pretty much useless because of the constant vibrations, so I shot this one handheld and used my beanie as a hood against the glass to minimize the reflections from the cabin.
When shooting handheld, the shutter speed should always be fast enough to get a sharp image. It depends on the lens a bit, but for me somewhere around 1/50th of a second is the limit where I can still nail 95% of the shots if the subject isn’t moving.
Outtakes from the pla ride (including one with the plane in view)

I asked him if he had any special seating preferences when flying, and he noted that there’s a fun trick that photographers can use if they’re boarding a not-entirely-full-flight and want to capture something similar:

As I always take the cheapest flight, I really don’t have a choice regarding when I fly, but I definitely prefer flights which take place during sunsets and sunrises for great opportunities to get shots like this. If you are really dedicated, you can ask to be seated on the right side for the sunset as you check in.

So, what’s Arto’s advice for other photographers? It’s a bit tongue in cheek:

Work for your photos. The best ones rarely come by accident…except maybe this one!

I think I might add that it’s always worth it to keep a camera on you when flying long distances — and to never be too deeply asleep to wake up from your nap, and capture the perfect moment.


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