The science behind why sunrise photo sessions are so beautiful.
I love sunrise light! I could go on and on about the magic of it, but I want you to understand that there is science behind why the light, colors, and shadows look so beautiful.
Okay, I know that getting up before the sun is not ideal, especially if you have kids to wrangle or need to get up extra early to have your hair and makeup done before your session. But I also know that, regardless of season, sunrise light is some of the best light that I've ever seen and here is the science behind it:
- SUNRISE TIMING: Just to blow your mind a little bit, sunrise actually happens before the sun is up! This is because the earth refracts the sun rays as the sun starts to rise, so while you might see that sunrise is set for 7:00 AM, the best time to start your session is about 15 minutes before the sun hits the horizon. As you will see in the sample images below, most of the images were taken before the sun came up!
- LIGHT SCATTERING: One of the coolest things that happens at sunrise is a phenomenon called "scattering," where small molecules in the atmosphere cause light to change directions, which affects the colors that we see. When the sun is lower on the horizon, the sunlight passes through more of the atmosphere and scatters out the blue and violets, leaving reds, oranges, and yellows that make for stunning images. This is because these colors accent skin tones beautifully and give a bit of an atmospheric glow to the environment.
- HARD LIGHT V. SOFT LIGHT: There are two types of light: hard and soft. Hard light is when the light is harsh and there are deep shadows. Soft light is when the light is even and the shadows almost blend into the lit areas. The most important thing about hard and soft light in photography is not the light itself then, it's the shadows! Whether shooting on a digital or a film camera, those shadows can become so deep in hard light that they are not flattering on the subject or the camera sensor can't process the information in those areas so they just look black. Sunrise light is super soft and as the sunlight passes through the horizon, shadows are minimized by the long wavelengths of light.
- EVAPORATION: There are some really neat ecological things that happen at sunrise too after the darkness of night begins to lift: fog hovers over lakes/bodies of water as it rises, clouds disperse the rising sun in interesting ways, and dew over leaves and foliage that makes everything look vibrant and fresh. This is because as the earth warms up with the heat of the sun, dew droplets begin to evaporate and it is magical.
- TIME OF YEAR DOES MATTER. In the spring and summer months, air circulation throughout the earth is going at a bit of a slower pace, so there can be some haze and diminishing of air quality. However, in the fall and winter months, air pollution is usually at it's lowest and sunrises are more clear and vibrant.
I hope that this science stuff helped you better understand why sunrise light is so beautiful! I'd love for you to check out this sunrise session as well and see if you can spot a few of the things I mentioned above happening as the sun begins to rise over the horizon!