top of page

Chasing Sunsets

“Look at that sunset!” I yelled and took off running down Jackson Street in Cape May, New Jersey in my much younger days!

My daughter Heather, son-in-law Tim, and I were in town for a screening of a television episode in which I was featured painting on location, later to be broadcast on PBS. The day had been partially overcast. Tim, Heather, and I had been strolling along the Washington Street Mall when suddenly I noticed magnificent sky colors. That's when I took off running! 

Tim shouted, “Wait! I'll get the car!” By the time he caught up with me, I had just turned the corner onto Beach Avenue. When Tim and Heather pulled up to the curb, I jumped into the car and in less than a minute we stood on the beach dunes with perhaps thirty other sunset watchers, all paused in appreciative silence, witnessing one of the greatest shows on earth.

My paintings this month feature sunsets InSide the Back Mountain. All are painted in oil on stretched canvas in traditional layering methods with final glazes of color. All three are based on photographs taken of Harveys Lake by the husband of a long time friend of mine, Renee Giunta. Renee is a Back Mountain artist and we paint together every week. I am blessed to be included in a group text by which her husband, Sam, shares his awesome sunset photos with family members… and me. Sam stalks sunsets. Sam is an opacarophile!

Someone who really appreciates what artists call Golden Hour, the last hour of sunset, is termed an opacarophile. Opacare is Latin for sunset or dusk, while phile is Greek for love. Combined, it's a term for those who, psychologists say, truly enjoy and appreciate the beauty of the sunset. Psychologists also say this enjoyment can substantially improve a person’s well being, raise the level of life’s happiness, and even encourage generosity and a feeling of concern for others! Opacarophiles seem to possess their own novel method of therapy. Not only that, psychologists say that opacarophiles generally have warm, friendly, easygoing, pleasant personalities and Renee says those words definitely describe Sam!

Sam has loved sunsets ever since Renee first met him decades ago. But he not only loves sunsets, he plans for them. Sam calculates. He knows when and where the sunset will happen and where he has to be positioned to see it, whether it's on an Alaskan fishing trip, or his favorite waters at  Harveys Lake or Sodus Point, or in the comfort of his home. Renee says Sam estimates ahead whether there will be the right amount of clouds for real sky drama.  

“Sam may not leave home in the middle of the dinner meal, but he will certainly rush through it, trying to be subtle, the least obvious he can,” Renee tells me, a smile in her voice. “I've finished more than a few dinner meals by myself on a day that promises a good sunset. Then BOOM! The photos start to come by text, and Sam has captured another great one!”

Scientists explain that during the day, the sun is somewhere over our heads. But during sunset, we view it as tangent to the ground and the sunlight’s path seems lengthened. The various palettes come from the sun’s electromagnetic energy. Our eyes can only see the visible energy from 400 nanometers (blues) to 700 nanometers (reds). It's the longer wavelengths of the violets, reds, oranges that create iconic sunset colors. The red/orange/yellow light spectrum seen in sunsets can help regulate our circadian rhythms.

Sunsets can provide a momentary vacation and remind us that just as light can shine through clouds, hope can shine through difficulties. When we see a gorgeous sunset, the “feel good” neurotransmitter dopamine is released in our brains. Long after the sunset colors fade in the sky, the mental effects still provide stress alleviation and a sense of calm and peace! Painting a sunset from a photo is almost as psychologically beneficial as seeing a real one! In the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Every sunset brings the promise of a new dawn.”

What’s the difference between a dedicated opacarophile like Sam and a hobbyist opacarophile like me who simply enjoys a great sunset, whether it’s InSide the Back Mountain or beyond? As in any endeavor, the difference is dedication. Determination. Planning. Scheduling. Focus. I stumble upon sunsets–Sam stalks them!

I need to take a lesson from Sam Giunta and be more focused on these ephemeral phenomena. And I probably should schedule a lot more time to paint more of Sam’s spectacular sunsets!


This article originally appeared in the March 2024 publication of InSide the Back Mountain.

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page