Photography is painting with light. Knowing how to use light is like knowing how to mix colors on a palette and applying them on the canvas. One of the most common lightings photographers encounter is natural light. From portrait to landscape and cityscape to macro photography, the sun and sky are always the most widely used light sources. Thus, mastering the use of natural light can greatly improve one’s photography skills. So, this article will cover two best times of the day to take advantage of the natural light: Golden Hour and Blue Hour.
The Golden Hour refers to the two hours after sunrise or before sunset. Its magic lies in the distinct qualities of the sunlight. As the rising or setting sun casts its light from a lower angle, it creates a diffused and soft directional light. The sun becomes the perfect natural light source for backlighting or side lighting, and its low angle elongates the shadows, creating more contrast (Grigonis). The Golden Hour light also possesses a warmer tone. While direct sunlight can wash out the colors with its blinding light, this golden light saturates the scene with yellow, orange, and red (“Taking Advantage”). On the Kelvin Scale for color temperature, 5600 kelvins is the default daylight color temperature. However, during the Golden Hour, the blue lights are filtered out by the atmosphere as the sun is closer to the horizon, so the sun casts a warmer tone of 3000 to 3500 kelvins (McGregor). Therefore, the Golden Hour is the best time of the day for photography.
One important thing to keep in mind is that Golden Hour changes quickly, and depending on the weather, it can also offer different kinds of amazing lightings. For example, in early afternoon or late morning, the sunlight has a more golden glow as shown in this macro shot. Late in the morning Golden Hour, the sun, shining on morning dews, gives the picture a gold, “bokehlicious” background. Right around sunset or sunrise, however, the sun gives out a more orange glow, and the presence of clouds can add additional magic to the already breathtaking light. As shown in the panorama taken late in the evening Golden Hour from the sun to the other end of the horizon, the color of the sky ranges from yellow, orange, to blue and purple, and the clouds further add pink, magenta, and purple to the picture. Thus, the unpredictable and fast changing nature of the Golden Hour is another part of the fun.
The Blue Hour, on the other hand, comes right before the morning Golden Hour and after the evening Golden Hour. When the sun has dipped a certain amount under the horizon, the atmosphere will pick up a deep blue that lasts about twenty to forty minutes (Dadfar and Mishra). While the warmth of the Golden Hour conveys happiness and hopefulness, the cool colors from the Blue Hour adds a unique sense of serenity to the scene. In fact, the Blue Hour so perfectly captures the peacefulness of the night that sometimes it is the better choice for night photography than actually taking the picture at nighttime. For example, this street scene would not look as good if the sky was completely dark. Artificial lights from the scene would cause strange and distracting lens flares, and the light pollution from the city would cast an orange glow in the night sky that spoils the mood of the photo. Thus, taking the picture during the Blue Hour eliminates those problems while also capturing the distinct tranquility of the dark blue sky.
In conclusion, the variety of natural light can be used for all kinds of moods and styles of photography. The Golden Hour and Blue Hours are only two examples of the natural mix of colors on the palette, and photographers can find their own creative ways to apply the colors on their canvases.
Photo Credits: Charlie Su
Dadfar, Kav, and Jenn Mishra. “What Is Blue Hour Photography and How to Take Advantage of It.” ExpertPhotography, 3 Nov. 2020, expertphotography.com/blue-hour-photography-techniques/.
Grigonis, Hillary. “13 Tips for Shooting Golden Hour Photography.” Expert Photography, 26 Nov. 2020, expertphotography.com/what-is-golden-hour-photography/.
McGregor, Lewis. “Kelvin Scale Breakdown: What Every Color Temperature Looks Like.” Shutterstock, 24 Sept. 2019, www.shutterstock.com/blog/kelvin-scale-breakdown-color-temperature.
“Taking Advantage of the Golden Hour in Photography.” Adobe, www.adobe.com/creativecloud/photography/discover/golden-hour.html.
Photo of the Month: Night Photography & Astrophotography
Here are all the stunning photos from last month’s submissions!
Bryce Canyon National Park by Micah Glorioso
The Big Dipper by Yeeun Kim
Next month’s theme is: Golden Hour and Blue Hour Photography
Please submit your photos with this Google Form: https://forms.gle/QKRNCx9ATwZg8tU67
The submission deadline is March 25th. If you have any questions, please let me know in the comment section.