Learning to Use Natural Light in Travel Photography; The Golden Hour

Light is one of the most important elements of photography. When working in a studio, you can control the temperature, luminosity and position of lighting to achieve the perfect balance for your shot. Unfortunately, natural light isn’t so flexible or accommodating

The Golden Hour (aka, Magic Hour, Blue Hour or Sweet Hour) is loosely defined as the first and last hour of sunlight each day. This time frame can vary greatly depending on the time of year, location and other factors. During the Golden Hour, the sun is near or even below the horizon, causing it’s light to be diffused in the atmosphere. The result is a very soft, warm light, that is ambient without a direct source. Blue light is also scattered, resulting in deeper and more brilliant reds. Painters, photographers, filmmakers and other visual artists have taken advantage of this natural light effect for centuries.

20111121-0207The image shown is an example of shooting during the Golden Hour. It was taken at approximately 3:05 pm on 11/21/2011. While this might seem a bit early in the day for the Golden Hour, there are other factors that have to be considered. This image was taken just north of London, England at a latitude of about 51 degrees. The solar noon on this day was 11:46 am and sunset was at 4:04 pm. At high noon, the sun was at an altitude of only about 18.7 degrees. What does all this mean? On this day, the sun stayed just above the horizon all day, extending the Golden Hour effect long past normal time frames. There was also a light cloud cover that further diffused the light, producing really nice conditions for photography.

When planning your travel photography outings, you’ll need to do a little homework if you want to take advantage of the Golden Hour effect. Research the estimated sunrise and sunset times for the location you plan to visit, as well as the weather forecasts. Check out the terrain and type of area you want to photograph. For example, if you’re shooting around Denver, Colorado, you’ll need to factor in how the surrounding mountains might affect the light.

To help with your travel photography planning, check out TimeandDate.com. Its a great resource for information on locations around the world. The Golden Hour Calculator is pretty cool too.

Travel Pic of The Day

Empty cabanas and a lifeguard station on Clearwater Beach, Florida

Empty cabanas and a lifeguard station on Clearwater Beach, Florida

Empty cabanas and a lifeguard station on Clearwater Beach, Florida.

Tech Specs: ISO-160, f/11, exposure setting 1/250 sec, time of day – 9:09 am

This image was taken in the early morning, before tourist and sunbathers take over the beach. Long shadows cast by the cabanas show that this image was taken just outside the “Golden Hour” time-frame. Although I was on the beach before sunrise, intermittent cloud cover kept things dark until the sun was already above the horizon.