13 January 2018

The Golden Hour: Magical Photography

Have you ever taken a photograph that seems to have a magical quality to it, because of the way in which the light has been captured in the shot?  The chances are that you took the picture during the two times of day that photographers know as the golden hour.

The first hour of sunlight of the day makes the first golden hour.  As the sun rises the light is softer than later in the day when the full and harsh rays of the sun shine down upon us.  Likewise at the end of the day in the hour before sunset, the sun is close to the horizon again.  As in the morning, the light travel in an oblique manner and so, instead of hitting objects straight down, hits them at an angle.

The result is that shadows are more pronounced and the pictures take on a much warmer, golden quality.  The warmth of the colors that the sun, in its low position, produces, gives a photograph a completely different quality than when taken at other times of the day. 

One of the main problems about taking photographs when the sun is at its full height is that overexposure will happen, draining out of the picture the colors that are there in the scene.  Often, too, the shadows can be too dark in the middle of the day.  The first hour after sunrise and before sunset enables the photographer to take pictures in which the shadows are considerably less pronounced.

Some photographers are more technical and precise in their definition of when the Golden hour actually starts and ends.  The period during which the sun is between 6 degrees above and below the horizon is how they define it, better accounting for the speed at which night becomes day and vice versa.

Yes, but what time of day is that exactly?  It really does depend on where you are in the world and what time of year it is.  If you are interested in taking pictures during the golden hour, though, it is best to be in position to take your picture before sunrise.  Light changes very quickly and if you want to take a particularly striking landscape then even a couple of minutes either side of the perfect time means that you might miss what most photographers will think of as the best light.

Your latitude will also determine how quickly and steeply the sun will climb.  The best think to do – as with most things including photography – is to experiment.  So, don’t stay in bed until the very last minute and then dash out expecting to get the perfect shot as that will be unlikely to happen.  There really isn’t much of a rule of thumb going on as cloud cover is also an important factor in how your pictures will turn out.

Although some will not care to admit it, photography in the golden hour can be a matter of luck.  The difference between what makes a photograph interesting and what could make it unique may simply boil down to the capture of a moment of light that was there one second and gone the next.  It can take years to capture that moment.

If you are taking portraits then you have a slightly different set of problems.  The first is trying to get the subject of your pictures out of bed.  However, objects look particularly good in the golden hour, as it highlights their shape and textures so if you are taking pictures of, say, a rock group, try and do it during the golden hour.  As children tend to get up at unfeasible times of the day, if you want to get some great shots of your offspring then the golden hour is a good time to take them – the light is great and you can spend time capturing and interacting with the children rather than fretting about the light.

Golden hour is sometimes referred to as the magic hour but should not be confused with the blue hour.  This is twilight time, when another sort of light altogether can be captured on film.  If you are blond and considering an outside photo shoot then the blue hour is the best time for you as the time between full light and darkness is considered most flattering photographically for your skin tones and hair color.

If you would like to calculate when the golden hour is in your locality there is no need nowadays to do much more than turn on your PC.  Simply visit the golden hour website and you will have the exact times of your golden hours in seconds.