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Friday, August 7, 2009

The Golden Hour

© 2009 Simon Hucko

Want to take your photography to the next level? Start shooting during "the golden hour" - the hour after sunrise or before sunset when the sun is still very low in the sky. The low position of the sun does several things. First, it changes the angle of light from overhead to being more direct, eliminating problematic shadows (raccoon eyes, for example). It also provides a lot of textural definition to a scene, especially when you shoot with the sun coming in 90* from where you are, and can help make a landscape more dynamic and interesting.

The most notable effect (and the namesake for "the golden hour") is the dramatic change in the quality of light. Since the light passes through more of the atmosphere to reach you, it becomes more diffuse. It also becomes less blue, giving things a pleasing warm (or golden) tone.

Finally, the diffuse light isn't as bright, which compresses the tonal range of a scene and helps prevent blown highlights and muddy shadows in your images.

Golden hour light is generally preferred for photographing landscapes, as it reduces the dynamic range and provides some nice illumination on the scene. This is the main reason why a professional image of a landscape/waterfall/vista/city skyline/etc looks so much better than your photo taken at high noon. It also is great light for people/portrait photography, and you can take some amazing natural light portraits armed with only your camera and some type of reflector or fill card.

I'm going camping this weekend at Letchworth Park (Mount Morris, NY), which is home to several waterfalls and a giant dam. Unfortunately for me, all of them face east, so I'm going to try to wake up before dawn so I can capture them in that early golden hour light. I'll report back next week on whether or not I actually get up that early...


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