Sunrise, Sunset – Photographing During the Golden Hour
There’s a reason why we call the hours around sunrise and sunset the golden hours of our day. After all, they offer “a kind of magic” as Freddie Mercury would croon (indulge me, I’m a big fan), a kind of magical light that lasts only for a limited time, a kind of light photographers often try to recreate using artificial light sources in and outside the studio.
But what exactly makes the golden hour light so magical? Right after sunrise and before sunset, the sun is low in the sky, just above the horizon. Its darker, reddish color during the golden hour offers a warmer light color temperature that enhances the subject we want to photograph–it enhances anything it touches, really. Hence, landscape photographers , for example, often shoot around the golden hour, to be able to work with that magical light. In addition, because during the golden hour the sun is low in the sky, its light creates long shadows that can make images, and visual stories, mesmerizing and mysterious.
The golden hour doesn’t last long. “An hour” is used more figuratively. The golden hour lasts for a longer or shorter period of time, depending on where it takes place on the earth, and it’s reached when the sun is very low in the sky, (the sun reaches a certain very low altitude about an hour after sunrise or before sunset). The closer we are to the Equator, the faster the sun reaches that altitude. As we move farther and farther away from the Equator, the sun takes longer to reach that altitude. That’s why, in places farthest away from the Equator, the sun never reaches that altitude, and the golden hour lasts for a long time, in certain seasons. (Hence the white nights phenomenon that happens in June in places like Saint Petersburg; during the white nights, the sun never dips below the horizon at night.)
A few ideas for photographing the golden hour:
– scout out the location before the day of the photo shoot; use a golden hour calculator (app) to have an idea of the time, location, etc of the sunrise and sunset, or do it the old fashion way and check out the location at or around sunrise/sunset yourself, take a few shots with a smartphone, for example, just to prepare for the actual golden hour photo shoot
– arrive early–that is, before sunrise or sunset, before the sun starts changing its color because once that starts, the change can happen pretty fast
– bring a tripod, as you might end up photographing in low-light conditions; bring zoom lenses or wide-angle lenses as well as telephoto lenses, in order to capture the entire scene as well as details, close-ups
– other ideas, in terms of camera settings: start by setting the camera at its native ISO value; high f-stop number (narrow aperture, in particular when shooting landscapes) and experiment with the shutter speed; also, as White Balance, try Daylight (5500K) WB if there is still some blue in the sky, if not, try to set the WB to Cloudy (or approx 6200K) White Balance to enhance the warmer tones
– be patient and wait for the best light to show itself; also, don’t leave right after the golden hour is over, in particular, the sunset hour; hang around for a few more minutes, watch how the golden hour turns into the blue hour (more on that in another post); same goes for sunrise, only in reverse order, because there you get to watch the blue hour light turn into golden hour light
– remember, clouds enhance the golden hour experience, making it more dramatic, so look for clouds; also capture silhouettes against the golden hour light
– when photographing the sun, the first impulse might be to include the sun in the image frame, but that’s not always necessary; rather, include hints, and rich tones of warm light but not the actual light source (the sun), to let viewers know that the image was taken during the golden hour
Here are a few images taken during the golden hour:
Grand Canyon sunset:
Sunrises and sunsets offer more than magical light for photography. They mark the beginning and the end of our day, maybe even metaphorical bookends of our life, in a way. The golden hour doesn’t captivate only photographers and visual artists, but also other creatives, such as writers and performers. And so, while mentioning golden hour–sunrise, sunset–photography, remember the song “Sunrise, Sunset” from Fiddler on the Roof? Then check out the new Yiddish production of Fiddler playing this summer in New York City at NYTF. Just saying….
Happy photographing sunrises, sunsets, and anything else! And, as always,
Thanks for stopping by!