Golden Light

Snapshot of our automobile in the garage of our house in Panama City, Panama. The picture was taken at 4:49 p.m. on December 4, 2012. This is the best time to take a picture due to the subdued light which has a soft orange look. It is called the “golden hour”. Photo by ©Omar Upegui R.

In photography, the golden hour (sometimes known as magic hour, especially in cinematography) is the first and last hour of sunlight during the day, when a specific photographic effect is achieved due to the quality of the light.  As you probably know, photography is the art of painting with light.  This is why choosing the right light is critical if you want to capture jaw-dropping pictures.

The golden hour, sometimes called the “magic hour”, is roughly the first hour of light after sunrise, and the last hour of light before sunset, although the exact duration varies between seasons. During these times the sun is low in the sky, producing a soft, diffused light which is much more flattering than the harsh midday sun that so many of us are used to shooting in.

Professional photographers swear by this rule, and many follow it so rigidly that they even go as far as refusing to shoot outdoors at any other time of the day. You don’t need to be quite so strict, but bear in mind that these guys are called experts for a reason, and their advice is usually worth following.

Film director Terrence Malick has used this technique in films such as Days of Heaven, The New World, and The Tree of Life (in the latter the entire film was shot in this hour); and film director Stanley Kubrick made extensive use of the golden hour in Full Metal Jacket, among others.

Typically, lighting is softer (more diffuse) and warmer in hue. Shadows are relatively non-existent if the sun is below the horizon. When the sun is near or below the horizon, sunlight travels through more of the atmosphere, reducing the intensity of the direct light, so that more of the illumination comes from indirect light from the sky, reducing the lighting ratio. More blue light is scattered, so if the sun is present, its light appears more reddish or orange. In addition, the sun’s small angle with the horizon produces longer shadows.

When I go out hunting for new pictures I try to do it between 6:00 a.m. and 7:30 a.m.  The mornings are nice and cool and the light is soft and orange-like—perfect for picture taking.

8 thoughts on “Golden Light”

  1. Look at that – we have the same kind of car. It is strange not to see a front license plate, though – do you have plates only on the rear?

    You’re right about the light, too. There are a couple of places I’d love to take photos in the morning or evening, but to do that I’d have to drive in the dark for a couple of hours, and I’m not keen to do that. Partly cloudy days are an ok substitute.

    1. Hi Linda:

      It’s both interesting and disturbing news for Apple. Apple has shot itself again on the foot and it’s creating a dent in the company’s reputation for producing flawless products.

      Now we know nobody’s perfect, not even Apple Inc. Can we call this event a Mapgate?



  2. Hello Linda:
    We own a Toyota Corolla 2006. It’s a good car with a powerful motor—1800 cc. It’s a lot more HP than we need.

    In Panama we only have one licence plate which we place on the rear of the vehicle.

    I can’t see very well in the dark either, so I take pictures near my home. It’s a lot safer.



  3. Morning!
    I happened on a fascinating movie and have been trying to remember to tell you about it. The title is George Eastman: The Wizard of Photography. It is on youtube in three parts:
    I hope it is viewable there.

    Ansel Adams was the master of light and shadow. There are several stories of his waiting patiently for exactly the right time of day for his photos.
    jim and nena
    fort worth

  4. Morning Jim & Nena

    You Tube is getting pretty good with movies partitioned in several parts. Have found real jewels there, now and then.

    Will take a look at your suggestion. Viewing a Netflix motion picture at this moment called “Flawless” with Michael Caine and Demi Moore about the diamond industry.

    I think it is viewable in Panama, I mean George Eastman, The Wizard of Photography. (Fingers crossed)

    It’s a pity Kodak lost the train when they didn’t see digital photography coming. Now they are struggling to survive. Already selling their patents to Google and Yahoo. May the best man win.

    Seen several pictures of Ansel Adams in black and white. He is one of the best in the industry ever.

    Warm Regards,


  5. Hi Abe:

    So nice to hear from you again. I’ve been following your blog and Facebook posts and feel you are in good health again.

    Yep, I like pictures with that golden touch and elongating shadows.

    Take Care,


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