• Jianwen Chen (CJ)

How to catch a winter fire sky sunset 🌄

Updated: Mar 3

The best season to catch a fiery sunset is in winter.

Did you notice that most sunsets in winter are spectacular? Most of us are too busy staring at our phones to be awed by the wonders of nature occurring right above our heads.

Photography helped me to turn my gaze away from my iPhone to the skies above to notice and feel the same feeling of wonder I felt when I was a child. Let’s talk about the natural wonder of winter sunsets today.

3 reasons why winter is sunset season

  1. Low humidity in winters means less water vapor in the air. Water vapor attract particles which makes sunsets hazy. But with the lack of water vapor, sunsets in winter look crisp and clear.

  2. The sun sets at a lower angle, this enables the light to linger longer and we get longer and more colorful sunsets.

  3. Winter air comes from the polar vortex which is less polluted. Therefore, we get lots of clear days in this season.

Sunsets Simplified

Sunsets occur due to a natural phenomenon called Rayleigh scattering. Light is white in color but it contains all the colors of a rainbow. Gases in our atmosphere trap the blue and violet light so the sky looks blue.

At sunset, light travels further through the atmosphere to reach our eyes, and most of the blues, greens, and yellows get filtered out — leaving only the reds and oranges which creates a fiery sunset or what we call a ‘fire sky’.

The 3-step method to catch a fire sky sunset

You can dramatically increase your chances of seeing one if you spend only 10 minutes of planning the day before. Here’s my 3-step method:

Step 1:

Find out what time is the golden hour and sunset.

Golden hour is when the sky turns orange and red before the sun actually sets. I use the PhotoPills app to tell the golden hour and sunset. But a simple google search for“Golden hour (your city)” will also work!

Step 2:

Use weather radar to predict cloud movement a day before.

I recommend www.windy.com. Click on the GFS forecast model (bottom right). Then, click the play button to fast forward the cloud movement forecast to the approximate time of sunset you want to catch (16:00 Tokyo time, in my case). The sky around your location at sunset has to be clear (in yellow, see below) with some cloud in the West (where the sun will set).

Step 3: Double-check before leaving home! The weather changes constantly so be sure to check the weather radar a few hours before you go see the sunset! My advice is, even if the forecast is not perfect, head out nevertheless, you will never know what nature will surprise you with :)

Finally, have fun and let me know if you could catch a beautiful sunset with my 3-step method on Instagram at @cjphotoworks

In the next post, I will write about the best sunset spots in Tokyo and also how to photograph a sunset!

Stay safe and stay tuned :)


Jianwen Chen Writer, Photography Coach, Content Creator based in Tokyo, Japan

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