Fire Island Sunsets

Fire Island is one of very few places on the east coast of the United States where sunsets are visible over water. On cloudless days they’re glorious, but the most spectacular sunsets happen when the right clouds form over Great South Bay. The more interesting the cloud formations the more dramatic sunset will be, but only to the point that sunlight can get through the cloud cover, of course.

The very best results occur when there has been a storm that clears from the west just as sunset begins such that there are high clouds (stratus, altostratus, alto-cumulous, etc.) almost out to the western horizon, but a gap of cloudless sky just at the horizon for the sunlight to shine through and illuminate the base of the clouds from below.

If you’re taking pictures and your camera allows it, change the exposure time or aperture such that the picture is underexposed by about one F-Stop. This will increase the saturation and vividness of the colors and improve highlight detail without sacrificing image quality.

A wonderful way to increase the interest of any sunset photograph is to position yourself and compose the picture with something interesting in the foreground. Reflections of the sun and clouds on water or wet sand work very well, and if you’re lucky someone will walk into the frame to produce an interesting silhouette. Or perhaps a passing flock of birds or a seagull or two will fly into view at a convenient moment. It just takes a little luck, but with persistence you can be rewarded with some great pictures! For a family photo, set your camera to use “fill flash” and then face the setting sun. Position the kids facing you, with their backs to the sunset. Compose the picture with the sun between them and set the angle wide enough to take in some of the rapidly reddening sky. Also remember to occasionally turn around and look behind you, sometimes the deepest colors of a sunset occur on the base of clouds on the opposite horizon.

Interesting things also happen at angles not directly facing the sun, of course … deep orange and yellow tones flood the sky in many directions making for some great sunset pictures without the sun itself. In fact, there is no finer place in the world than Fire Island to view and photograph our frequently flaming red sky!

And for early risers, pretty much all the preceding applies to sunrises, which occur over the Atlantic through the summer months. Sunsets over the ocean don’t happen until about mid-November, but if you happen to be on the island out of season you can get some great shots of the sun setting in the west over the beach.

It’s been a great season, island life is pretty much back to normal after COVID-19, and I look forward to seeing everyone again this coming spring!