Molokai Sunset

“Isn’t it beautiful,” I sighed, looking out at this scene from my table at Hotel Molokai‘s open-air restaurant, Hula Shores. My dining companion, a local, gave me a funny look, and agreed — in a way that made me realize she was just being polite.

Jaded, I thought, she sees this scene all the time.

I was wrong. The photos that follow were taken in the next 56 minutes, although things really started happening in the last ten minutes. I didn’t edit them at all — there are a few things I’d like to do with them in terms of composition — but the point I’m making here is about the color.

Everyone knows that Hawaii’s got some spectacular sunsets; fewer know why.

Conventional wisdom holds that spectacular sunsets come from air pollution, which isn’t really true. For the most brilliant colors, you need clean air. (You can prove this to yourself if you take off in an airplane at sunset on a hazy day — compare the colors you see from the ground, where polluted air tends to hang, to what you see at cruising altitude.) You also want a certain amount of moisture in the atmosphere to produce light scattering clouds, a cirrus and altocumulus are best.

The exception to the clean air rule is volcanic ash, which Hawaii’s also got — but only at high altitude. That’s what produces a “volcanic twighlight”, about 15 minutes after sunset — also known as an afterglow.

Read more about how to make a beautiful sunset here. But first look at what happened to this already lovely sky:

 

48 minutes later:

Molokai Sunset

 

Four minutes after that:

Molokai Sunset

 

And two minutes later:

Molokai Sunset

 

Previously: Why tropical waters are so damned blue.