Golden hour photography: Mastering the light and shadow of sunsets


Almost over: The golden hour is slowly making way for the blue hour. — Oliver Berg/dpa

At the end of the day, the sun floods the sky with warm light in what's known in photography circles as the golden hour.

That is the special time before sunset when the daylight is redder and softer than during the height of the sunlight hours.

However, that special golden yellow and orange light is not only around just before sunset but also right after the sun rises, if there are no clouds in the sky.

What makes all the difference is that there's enough light available so that even snapshots with your smartphone look good without any problems, photography experts say.

However if you're planning to capture special features such as light fringes or silhouettes, you'll need a camera that allows manual adjustments and lens changes.

If the sunset is behind you as you take the picture, you're dealing with what's known in the trade as incident light – the light illuminating your scene.

In these cases, you'll often see your own long shadow poking its way into your picture – the trick to avoid this is to stand in the shadow cast by a tree or rock.

Aside from that, the golden sunrise or sunset hour provides the best conditions for backlit shots, which can be lively and exciting with long shadows and a range of colours of light, if you can get a handle on the range.

The difficult thing is that the sky, drenched with sunlight, is much brighter than the foreground. You might consider bracketing – taking a series of shots, shooting in HDR mode or using a gray graduated filter.

Make sure you avoid focusing directly into the bright shining sun and also refrain from lengthy exposures directly into the sunlight, say experts, as this could damage your eyes permanently, as well as your camera. Use the lens shade if you can, they recommend.

Aside from that, watch the image build-up during the golden hour: If it's going well, you can emphasise the depth effect of the particularly long shadows caused by the evening light.

And consider splitting your image so there's a background made up of about two-thirds sky and the foreground is one-third landscape. A wide-angle lens can help here. – dpa

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