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.