Golden Glow, Craig's Hut Mount Stirling, Victoria Australia.
Near and dear to the heart of every landscape photographer, golden hour is a gorgeous window of time in which the rising and setting sun transforms the landscape from the ordinary to the sublime. Colour fills the sky, sweet yellow and reds flood across the landscape and low angular light reveals textures hidden by harsh midday light. It is the most peaceful time of day, yet offers the greatest drama.
As the rising and setting sun nears the horizon, its rays travel farther through the atmosphere before reaching us on earth. The nitrogen and oxygen particles in our atmosphere essentially act as a filter, scattering the blue components of light and allowing the warmer wavelengths through. As light enters the lower atmosphere it also passes through airborne particles from dust storms, bush fires and pollution further intensifying the red hue of early morning and evening light. Add a little cloud and the results can be spectacular.
While the warmth of golden hour promises to inject a level of emotion into our photography unavailable for the greater part of the day, we often miss out as we attend to the pressing demands of modern life. As the landscape transforms outside we are often travelling, working, eating or sleeping as we recharge our batteries for the next day. With 2013 now a distant memory and many of us relaxing at beautiful holiday destinations, I would encourage you to make a conscious decision to rise early or stay out late and capture the landscape in the best light of day. If you make the effort even just once, the experience may well add to an already memorable holiday.
Here are a few simple tips which might help you get the best out of golden hour
1. Planning. When chasing golden hour, a little research ahead of time can help you to capture the landscape at its best. Knowing the position of the sun and the times of first light, sunrise, sunset and last light will ensure you are in a perfect position at the right time to capture the best light. I regularly use Photographer's Ephemeris on the iPhone in planning my shoots - http://photoephemeris.com
2. Arrive early and stay late. The best light of golden hour may occur well before or after sunrise and sunset. Arriving early is particularly important as it not only ensures you enjoy every second of glorious light, it allows you to claim the best location for your shot.
3. Remain positive. Even if the weather conspires against you and the conditions look hopeless, stay positive. Often the sun will break through when you least expect, creating a wonderful moment you may have otherwise missed. I know the disappointment of packing up prematurely, only to watch an amazing sunset unfold from the car.
4. Use a tripod and cable release. With the sun low and available light scarce, golden hour is the perfect time to dust of your tripod and cable release. The tripod provides a good sturdy base when longer shutter speeds are required, while the cable release will allow you to fire the shutter without shaking the camera. If you left the tripod behind, try improvising and rest your camera on a flat sturdy rock or fence post.
5. Switch to manual if you are game. Taking creative control allows you to express your vision of the scene. Try setting the aperture to a high number bringing the entire scene into focus while using a long exposure to bring out those beautiful colours. Your LCD panel will quickly reveal the results, allowing you to fine tune your exposure. The manual for your camera will be a great place to learn about manual exposures.
6. Filters. If you use a digital SLR, you might like to try a set of neutral density filters. Available in varying strengths, these filters are dark on top and clear on the bottom with a soft or hard transition between them. While our eyes can cope with bright skies and dark foregrounds our cameras struggle, often overexposing the sky or underexposing the foreground. Neutral density filters reduce the brightness of the sky, bringing both sky and foreground to a range of brightness allowing the camera tocapture the full colour and emotion of the moment. While blending multiple layers is certainly an option, I find capturing a scene in a single exposure often works best.
7. Have fun. I love photography as it draws me outdoors at the best times of day. Occasionally however, it is easy to become so focused on capturing a beautiful scene that we forget to experience the moment itself. At the end of the day, lets not take ourselves too seriously. Have fun and love life.