Your Screen, Your Projector, and The Sun: The Peak Time for Peak Projection

Sometimes, the summer sun is so hot that all you want to do is shut yourself up in a dark, cold cave and passively observe some big budget bombastics on the big screen. But, as much as Open Air Cinema would love to be a part of that summertime tradition, we have to respectfully bow out of the daytime film race. The reason? Proper projection requires a dearth of light - and the daytime hours belong exclusively to Mr. Sun. Unless you're hosting a cinema event in the depths of the deep, dark rainforest, outdoor projection is a nocturnal endeavor. Of course, as the summer days get longer and longer, you'll want to figure out how to maximize your movie night. We asked our techs and projectionists here at Open Air Cinema about that. They gave us the scoop on when you can start setting up your inflatable screen and, more importantly, when you can start the picture without having to compete with outdoor light.

No Exceptions with The Sun

Before we get into the nitty-gritty of light versus projection, let's address some of the questions that we often get on this subject. For example, many of our clients ask is if a projector with a really high lumen count might be able to throw an image bright enough to be seen during the day. The answer, unfortunately, no. Even the brightest projectors on the market right now - ones that can give off over 10,000 lumens of light - won't make much of a difference during the day. You might be able to squeeze out an extra half-hour of showtime during the last waning rays of sunlight. But that's about it. The other question we get asked a lot is Can I get a bright enough image on my inflatable screen if I project on a day that's heavily overcast? The answer is still no. Think of the vast difference of light between the regular nighttime and a gray, cloudy afternoon. It's still a heavy amount of brightness, even if the skies aren't blue. And besides, since heavy clouds typically herald rain or snow, you probably don't want to be setting up your expensive cinema equipment out of doors, do you?

An example of nautical twilight. Press

Nautical Twilight

According to our research and our experience, the absolute earliest time that you can start an outdoor movie and project a bright enough picture is a period of the evening known as nautical twilight . This is the time when the sun has officially set and when the sun is 12 degrees below the horizon. That may sound a little strange at first. However, when you observe a sunset, you'll notice that there is a time when the sun is fully out of view, but there is still enough light in the sky to observe a clear line of horizon between the earth and sky. While you need light to illuminate terrestrial bodies, you can see the waning sunlight projected (so to speak) against the back of the mountains or the city skyline. Traditionally, this was the time that sailors could use the horizon as a reference point while they referenced their maps against the known stars in the firmament. But for us, it's the time when we spread out on our blankets, ensure that our snacks are in arm's reach, and press play on our favorite films. This chart won't tell you what movie to play, but it will help you know when you can play it.

When is Nautical Twilight?

Ol' Mr. Sun doesn't go by our clocks and our schedules. He doesn't care that you told everyone you'd start The Goonies at 7:00 PM sharp. He's a grown celestial body and he goes to bed when he feels like it, darn it. Fortunately, even though you can't change the time that the sun sets, you can know when the sky is going to get dark enough for a magical night of cinema under the stars. You can visit websites like to get the exact time of sundown and nautical twilight every night in your area. That way, you know when you need to start getting your inflatable screen set up. Moreover, you can tell people when they should come get settled, and when the movie is actually going to start. With a little bit of foreknowledge about what the natural light is doing and when, your outdoor cinema event will be that much more of a success.

Join our mailing list

Get the latest outdoor cinema updates and benefits straight to your inbox


  • Sounds great Andrew! Let us know if you have any questions

    Nicholas (Open Air Cinema)
  • Our senior gated community is looking into outdoor movie events
    So I’m studying everything I can get my hands on

    Andrew bach

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published

Join our community of 4,000+ Open Air Cinema enthusiasts and professionals. Get exclusive tutorials, guidance and discounts in our weekly email newsletter.

Subscribe now 👇