The magic hour (also known as golden hour) is what most of the photographers are hunting for and hoping for whenever they go out shooting especially the photographers who fully rely on the natural light such as landscape, architectural and travel photographers. It is also during this short period of time most of the pictures in National Geographic are shot (Ever wonder why you see most of the people’s face are all glowing with golden / orange colour?)
Alain Briot, a renowned fine art landscape photographer, elaborates light in great details in his article “How to find the best light for a specific photograph”. It is an enlightening article worth reading for every photographer.
Besides Alain Briot, the landscape photographer who comes to mind when mentioning magic hours is the world famous British landscape photographer David Noton who is never tired of chasing the magical light at magic hour more often than not with his wife. You can read his numerous articles written for Practical Photography magazine under despatches section in his website how he tirelessly chased that magical moment to produce his stunning landscape photos.
Other than David Noton, Joe Cornish and Charlie Waite are my other favourite landscape photographers. For Joe Cornish he must make sure his light is perfect every time he trips his shutter. Every frame counts for him since he is using the cumbersome 5 x 4 view camera. But the resulting photo is superbly stunning.
Wikipedia aptly defines the golden hour (magic hour) as follows:
In photography, the golden hour (also known as magic hour) is the first and last hour of sunlight during the day when a specific photographic effect is achieved with the quality of the light during these hours.
Typically, lighting will be softer (more diffuse) and warmer in hue, and shadows will be quite pronounced as a result of the sun being so close to the horizon. The sunlight is traveling obliquely (through more of the atmosphere) and striking objects at an angle, instead of straight down. The golden hour is a mild version of alpenglow, as described by Galen Rowell.
During the golden hour, highlights are less likely to be overexposed, because the direct light of the sun is less intense compared to the diffuse light of the sky. In landscape photography, the warm color of the low sun is considered desirable to enhance the colours of the scene.
In the middle of the day, the bright overhead sun can create too-bright highlights and dark shadows. The degree to which overexposure will occur will vary as different types of film and digital cameras have varying dynamic ranges. This harsh lighting problem is particularly important in portrait photography, where a fill flash is often necessary to balance lighting across the subject’s face or body, filling in strong shadows that are considered undesirable. However, during the golden hour, such shadows are less pronounced.
One thing to remember though, you cannot get magic hour every day. That kind of magical light appears only when the weather on that day is clear and the sun is not smothered by the thick cloud that might block the sunlight. Otherwise you will get only overcast sky with flat, unflattering lighting – something most photographers would avoid shooting whenever possible.
Below are some pictures of mine taken at the magic hour, either in the early morning or late evening.
The Petronas Twin Towers and Menara Maxis
Magic hour in Teluk Kemang Beach, Port Dickson
Dayabumi Complex during the magic hour
Hot air balloons and Putrajaya were both bathed in the golden light during the magic hour
Magic hour in Putrajaya
The two Putrajaya iconic landmarks bathed in the golden light at magic hour
I suggest you take a peek at the websites or blog below that also share some information on the magic hour complete with awesome pictures.