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Is sunset or sunrise pink?


Sunrises and sunsets can produce beautiful pink skies. But is one more likely to appear pink than the other? The answer has to do with the optics of sunlight interacting with the atmosphere. Let’s take a closer look at what causes pink sunrises and sunsets.

What Makes Skies Pink?

Pink skies occur due to the scattering of sunlight off molecules and particles in the atmosphere. Shorter wavelengths of light, like blue and violet, are scattered more than longer wavelengths like red and orange. At sunrise and sunset, sunlight travels through more atmosphere to reach our eyes. Additional scattering of the shorter wavelengths leaves more of the longer wavelengths – creating a pinkish hue.

Sunrise vs. Sunset Optics

At sunrise, the sun’s light travels up through the atmosphere. Ozone and nitrogen dioxide higher up tend to absorb more reddish light. This filtration process means sunrises often appear more yellow or orange.

At sunset, sunlight travels back down through the ozone layer which absorbs less red light. Compared to sunrise, more red light reaches our eyes at sunset, making it appear more pink or reddish.

More Factors That Influence Color

The time of year also impacts how pink the sky appears. During summer, the sun rises and sets at a shallower angle. Sunlight travels through more atmosphere at this angle, resulting in more scattering and pink hues at sunrise and sunset.

The clarity of the sky is another factor. More water vapor or dust particles in the atmosphere provide additional surfaces for scattering, enhancing pink colors.

Cloud coverage can also influence the appearance by reflecting additional light around sunrise or sunset times. Wispy high clouds often contribute to vibrant pinks and reds.

Pollution Effects

Pollution levels can significantly impact the shades of sunrise and sunset. Aerosols released into the atmosphere, such as from the burning of fossil fuels, provide more particles for sunlight to scatter off of. More pollution means more vibrant and deep pink hues.

This effect is most notable with massive volcanic eruptions that eject large amounts of sulfates into the stratosphere. Historicalaccounts often refer to vivid red sunsets after the 1883 Krakatoa eruption.

So Which Is More Pink?

Based on the optics and atmospheric effects described above, sunsets are more likely to appear pink or reddish than sunrises. The passage of light back down through the atmosphere results in less filtration of red hues compared to the upward path light takes at sunrise.

However, many factors influence the exact colors we perceive during any given sunrise or sunset. The time of year, cloud patterns, humidity, pollution and more all play a role in how pink the sky appears. Both sunrise and sunset can produce brilliantly colored skies under the right conditions.

Notable Pink Sunrises and Sunsets

Some exceptionally pink sunrises and sunsets stand out:

Pink Sunrises

  • July 8, 2008 – Grand Canyon, Arizona
  • April 3, 2012 – Badlands National Park, South Dakota
  • May 7, 2013 – Annapurna Base Camp, Nepal

Pink Sunsets

  • September 19, 2016 – Cliffs of Moher, Ireland
  • November 5, 2017 – Harrisburg, Pennsylvania
  • August 12, 2019 – Sydney, Australia

Photographing Pink Skies

Capturing brilliantly colored sunrises and sunsets with a camera can take patience and the right techniques:

  • Use a tripod for sharp, well-composed images.
  • Frame the landscape and sky together for perspective.
  • Shoot in RAW format for more control in post-processing.
  • Bracket exposure to ensure details aren’t lost.
  • Focus 1/3 into the scene for sharper foregrounds.

Proper camera settings are also key. Recommended settings include:

  • ISO 100-400 to minimize noise.
  • Aperture f/8-f/16 for adequate sharpness.
  • Shutter speed 1/15s or longer, or use a timer or remote.
  • White balance to ‘cloudy’ or custom for pink tones.

Don’t forget creativity and unique perspectives. Use leading lines, silhouettes, reflections and other elements to enhance pink sunrises and sunsets.


While both can present splendid colored skies, sunsets are more inclined to appear pink and reddish compared to sunrises. This is due to the optical pathway sunlight takes when illuminating the atmosphere at sunset versus sunrise. Time of year, weather patterns, pollution and other local conditions further influence the hues of the sky. Photographing pink sunrises and sunsets takes know-how but delivers breathtaking results. So wake early or stay late to catch these magical moments!