I still find it simply amazing to think that every day we have two magic moments. I’m talking about the two magic hours which take place daily, around sunrise and sunset.
What gives that magical feel is actually the light. And not only it’s possible to enjoy that magic atmosphere in real life, it’s also possible to capture it with our photography!
But first of all, let’s try to get an idea of what the golden hour is. The golden hour is a short period of time just after sunrise or just before sunset, and it owns its name to the typical golden light which characterizes it. But why is its light so different? Which characteristics have this peculiar light? And when can we see it?
Light is the key element in photography, and our most important natural source of light is the Sun. To allow us see things its light has to travel from the Sun itself to the Earth, passing through the terrestrial atmosphere. And here it is where the magic begins! Just after sunrise and just before sunset the Sun is levelled at the horizon, so that its light has to travel through a much thicker layer of atmosphere compared to what it does in broad daytime. In doing so the light is scattered into the atmosphere, but this affects mainly its blue component, while the yellow, orange and red ones travel more easily. The result is that beautiful golden light all outdoor photographers always look for.
Now that we know why we get this particular light, let’s see which characteristics it has. Golden light is:
Soft (or diffuse). Travelling through a thick layer of atmosphere, which acts as a giant diffuser, the intensity of sunlight is reduced. The result is a softer, diffuse light, which produces a more evenly exposed photo, expanding naturally its dynamic range, reducing overly exposed bright areas and harsh shadows.
Warm. Scattering (blocking) mainly the blue component, the resulting light is warmer, throwing a golden glow on what it illuminates.
Directional. When the sun is low on the horizon, shadows become not only softer but also longer, adding to the sense of depth of the image, and highlighting textures.
You see? Plenty of reasons for waking up early in the morning or hanging out until sunset with your camera. Don’t forget your tripod, though. Being the light much less intense than in full daylight means that your shutter speed is going to be longer, and a solid support is necessary to avoid blurred images.
Next time we will talk about the other “half” of the magic hour: the blue hour!