The Golden Bewitching Hour of Photography

Golden Hour on Po Toi Island - Hong Kong

Golden Hour on Po Toi Island – Hong Kong

In my previous post on the ‘Blue Hour’, I insinuated shooting the blue hour provided more of a challenge to achieve a great exposure than one could get in the golden hour.  Quite a few people disagreed with me, with the complaint that shooting into the sun (and handling the glare of the sun) was much more difficult to manage.  

Granted, these two aspects of shooting a sunset can be difficult, but my point was that if you are shooting the sun, it is your only subject.  There are no other distractions to worry about, and if you are not incorporating the sun into your shot, you have the greatest light in the world to work with.  Conversely, with a lack of light and quickly changing shadows on your subject during the blue hour, the photographer needs to juggle more variables and therefore an inherently more difficult task.

Acacia Tree of Amboseli

Acacia Tree of Amboseli

However, I do agree with the difficulty of shooting into the sun, as I love the flare of her rays; a testament to the original beauty and variability of every singe sunrise/sunset.  Some examples:

  • You can capture a great set of Sun rays, while also highlighting the beauty of the land at the time of dusk.
Golden Light on LouXiaGou in Yunnan 东川红土地云南

Golden Light on LouXiaGou in Yunnan 东川红土地云南

  • You can capture a great silhouette of the beauty of the outdoors and outdoor activities.
Bird Watcher in Solitude, Po Toi Island Hong Kong

Bird Watcher in Solitude, Po Toi Island Hong Kong

  • You can capture the glow of the warm light on a number of beautiful things: landscape, cityscape, people and even wildlife.
Red-Crested Cranes in Evening Flight - Hokkaido, Japan

Red-Crested Cranes in Evening Flight – Hokkaido, Japan

  • Unfortunately, you can also capture a bunch of lens flares and blown highlights, as seen below that can disappoint…
Unintentional Lens Flare Shooting into the Sun

Unintentional Lens Flare Shooting into the Sun

The great thing I love about the disappointment of seeing lens flares is that while I know most stock agencies and companies would refuse such a photo…I still find the photos themselves pretty awesome to view.  Not to say flares are bad, because if you can get it right in a photo – nirvana.  And while I may be disappointed in the result of the flare, I do learn from my mistakes and slowly these errors become fewer (or, I am just blocking them out…).

But for me, the Golden Hour is a time of pure adrenaline because weather permitting, it produces a precious light handed down from the Gods, and that makes it hard not to take a good shot.  Therefore, I do stand beside my belief that the Golden Hour sunrise and sunset is the easier environment of the two “magic hours” to photograph.  As for a choice between sunrise and sunset, as there is nothing more difficult for me that the pre-dawn battle of crawling out of bed: sunset wins.

Kenyan Sunrise in Golden Glow

Kenyan Sunrise in Golden Glow

One thing I have not yet mentioned in either my Blue Hour post or this Golden Hour post is inspiration.  The bewitching hours of photography are perhaps the most inspirational time any artist will always have at their disposal.

Whether you are a writer, musician, poet, painter, photographer or simply enjoy the skills of other artists (which is where I fit in), the golden hour is the time of the day that excites the soul.  The lighting is special: slightly cool in the morning but with a glow that you can carry into the day…and in the evening, you can wrap yourself up in the warm light and its creativity.  Inspiration.

Terraces of Inspiration in FaZhe 法者红土地云南

Terraces of Inspiration in FaZhe 法者红土地云南

Speaking of inspiration, to all the bloggers out there that share your great ideas.  You all spark the creative fire in others.  From a post back in February from Yinyin in Vietnam (, I caught sight of a nice photo on her site of the sun breaking the horizon…with a great caption of “the scent of sunshine” which I loved.

“Scent of the Sun” is a perfect description, especially for a sunrise. I think every artist has a feel for the sun, besides just making the body feel good (and giving us vitamin D), the sun can open a corridor between our soul and the outside world.

Scent of the Sun - Inspiration

Scent of the Sun – Inspiration

So, to loop back to the beginning of this post: Blue Hour is the most difficult to photograph and is part of the reason why I like it so much: if you get it right – it can be amazing.  However, when I was looking at what photos to add to this blog…I could not believe the number of Golden Hour shots I had to choose from in my collection.  Viewing photos on the internet or in magazines and you will find that sunset shots not only dominate – but almost all of them are terrific shots.

My feeling is therefore, the Golden Hour is like the golden child…everyone loves her, for she is beautiful, intelligent and can do no wrong.  The Blue Hour is the less appealing little brother who pales in comparison to the more famous golden child.  Personally, for me growing up the only brother in a sea of three sisters, I think I can rationalize my admiration for the Blue Hour as I relate to its “unfair situation.”    🙂

Ode to the Blue Hour at Wu Meng Mountain

Ode to the Blue Hour at Wu Meng Mountain

Photography, and to a certain extent my writing, has been my artistic release, but perhaps my calling is more towards admiring the work of others.

A couple of weeks ago over lunch, a friend was planning to go to Lamma Island to shoot the sunset, and asked for advice.  While I told him I am not the right one to be asking, there are three general pieces of advice I can give (or rather pass on from what I have learned):

  1. Bring a tripod, and shoot off the tripod for sharp and crisp shots.
Crisp Wide-Angle of the Yunnan Countryside

Crisp Wide-Angle of the Yunnan Countryside

  1. Vary the focal lengths of your shots.
    1. Wide-angle lens for landscape (as you can tell, I like to incorporate the sun with this lens although lens flare issue are huge).
    2. A zoom lens (200mm or more) the more traditional approach if you want to feature the Sun in your shots  (tripod is often necessary).
Golden Rays Breaking in the Valley 法者红土地云南

Golden Rays Breaking in the Valley 法者红土地云南

  1. Experiment with Exposure
    1. Fast shutter speeds for silhouette shots (facing the sun)
    2. Slower shutter speeds for detail (focus on the warm light, not the sun)
    3. Bracket your shots and incorporate HDR techniques
Giraffe Family in the Kenyan Morning

Giraffe Family in the Kenyan Morning

Extremes of the Morning Sun

Extremes of the Morning Sun

And then the best advice I gave him was to go and checkout the work of others on the Internet.  Check out what the professionals do, and then try to dissect how they achieved their shot.

For me, the big three: John Shaw, Darrell Gulin and Adam Jones.  And then, from my time in San Miguel de Allende (, Raul Touzon is one of the more creative users of light in photography that I have seen.

One thing that I have picked up from Shaw and Jones, is that the details in landscape and the nuances with how light works in those compact areas require a zoom or longer lens.  In the past, rarely did I ever pull out my zoom lens (200mm), instead I shot with my wide-angle or mid-zoom lens.  It was through looking at their work where I really learned the value in pulling out my longer lens for landscape and sunset shots.

Lamma Island Sunset

Lamma Island Sunset

I figure we will all continue to evolve, as photographers.  New equipment and ideas will ensure this happens, but also every time we go out we see & learn something new.

The idea to capture as much of the beauty I saw in front of me, often led me to pull out my wide-angle, to bring it all in…but instead at times I would miss out on the wonderful nuances of her beauty that are even more stunning.  Be flexible and creative in these hours, and go for the original shot.

FYI: For the next 3+ weeks, I will be in Northern China and the DPRK and will not have access to the Internet.  So see you at the end of June.

39 Comments on “The Golden Bewitching Hour of Photography

    • Thank you very much for the kind words, you have great shots on your site…and we will be able to share our inspirations. We will build up our yuan-fen (缘分).

  1. You are so kind ,Randy, for sharing not only those precious moments but also tips to create them ^ – ^ (I sure will try those useful tips some days,now my little Sony-T77 doesn’t ask me for any special technique or adjustment)

    You know,whenever I try to box the sunlight, there comes a feeling which is almost the same to B&W photos – sadness , gorgeous – but sad!However, I love those pieces of your orange-juice-skies,Randy ^ – ^ Although all of them are stunning, this time I will take # 5,# 6,# 7,# 10 and the last one > v < !

    Oh I remember you said abt the moving on Thursday, well, have a safe and sound trip then,Randy ^ – ^ Plz take care!

    • Thanks Yinyin, you are very correct about trying to “box in the sun” in a photograph…it is almost impossible to capture all of the sun’s glory, so it is a bit sad! Still beautiful, but… Glad you liked the photos, and look forward to seeing some Vietnamese sunsets in your blogs in the future! Just arrived in China, and have some access to websites that are ‘non-WordPress’ in the address…but cannot post anything. Such a headache. Will be here for a couple of days before the trek 🙂 Thanks for the wishes!

  2. What a phenomenal photographer you are……and writer to boot. I look forward to reading many more amazing posts from you!

  3. This is a very strong series. The red-crested crane, zebra and and giraffe photos are exceptional, with the red-crested crane being one of the best of this type I have seen. And I have seen a ton of images in my time. Great job.

    • Much appreciate Mark, with the lighting it was difficult for such photos not to turn out well. Similar with your shot of the sunset and placing the boats in the foreground…sometimes it is just a small thing that can make a photo work. Look forward to learning more from your blog…a good site for inspiration!

  4. Clearly I need to look back at *all* of your stuff. This may take some time as, more than occasionally (unfortunately), my Internet is slow and takes forever to load photos. These are all stunning. Do you edit them much? How long ago were you in Africa?

    • Thanks for taking the time, spent some time at your site a couple days ago and was very impressed. It is kind of nice to be able to go back and look through older posts when there’s time. As for editing, I shoot RAW and then use LightRoom for my basic editing. Actually, LR is more than a basic editing tool, it is great. One some of my shots, I will use a Photomatix program for HDR. Africa was almost seven years ago, and I will return… Great place and great people.

  5. wonderfull! I am happy that I found your blog! really…! Your pictures are very inspiring..thank you very much for sharing… well done

    • Inspiration is the key isn’t it? There are so many great photographers out there, and I agree when I find their work it is inspirational. Great work yourself, and will be good to learn and grow more over time 🙂

      • 100% if i compare some pics from the past with now – I see some progress – but thats normal I think..just try and error 🙂

  6. Beautiful! I really enjoy your adventures…but I wonder why all this HDR? Your photography has a very high quality (and I really mean it!!!)…I would not overcharge it with certain effects…There is the pureness and the beauty of nature you are able to capture…let it breath…let it be how it is…Always.

    • Thank you very much, getting out during great light is a great way to liven the spirit. A few of these shots are HDR (1st HK shot and the Yunnan landscapes), but the rest are shot without (or with graduated filters). Agree that HDR can have an adverse affect, and also over saturation, which I think you are correct ~ sometimes less is better. Cheers!

      • If people sat outside and looked at the stars each night, I’ll bet they’d live a lot differently. If anybody will look around as you do, the world would be a better place.
        Wish you all the best…and the best results.

        Do you have a gallery on line?

      • So true, there can be long periods when I do not get out as really see the stars/world/nature…and only when I return to such a simple thing do I realize I have this void and understand what I have missed. Wish you the very best as well… No gallery on line, perhaps some day. Cheers.

      • Is the “void” that brought you to photography. Is your “understanding” that brings you there. Continually.
        You should have the proper display for your photography (In my humble opinion, the blog is gorgeous, but your pictures deserve more).
        19.27 here. Wish you a wonderful evening.

      • Exactly, as a kid it was easy to be enveloped in nature/world. As an adult, we get pulled into a different ‘business/materialism’ environment and photography is like this kid in me pulling me away and back towards nature. Really liked your thoughts in your comments, especially pulling back on the processing of photos when needed. Wish you a great evening/night.

      • The brain appears to possess a special area which we might call poetic memory and which records everything that charms or touches us, that makes our lives beautiful.

        — Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being

        Materialism you say? It is the day by day fight. Human survival. But (still) being able to turn back in time and feel certain things is so beautiful…

        Love, peace and joy, purpose, meanings…..Life is much more than a materialistic thought.

  7. Good information and excellent pictures! Looking forward to following on WordPress!

    • Thank you, always difficult for me to put down a rule or suggestion, because the next day I am usually breaking it…

  8. You have certainly captured the magic hours magnificently. So beautiful. I was trying to pick a favorite, but it’s impossible. I know one thing about photography and one thing only-I love looking at the beautiful shots captured by people like you. Thank you for sharing them and your knowledge.

    • Thank you Elizabeth, with all the video out there it is always nice when a photo can capture emotion (and made so much easier with the magic hour lights). Cheers!

  9. I really don’t know what is more difficult blue hour or the golden hour. I think whatever inspires you will make it work, and light in all its forms and shapes is always an inspiration. As such I don’t believe there is bad light, not even the harsh midday sunshine, only bad use of light. Fantastic image in this post, Randall – as always (which I always say, don’t I – but it’s the truth).

    • Thanks Otto, you say it well ~ I have grown to appreciate all types of light, as it is all in the way you wish to use it. Probably the best advice you could give any photographer, as looking/understanding the light is what it is all about.

  10. Amazing shots and you are so humble in your experience and expertise! Everyone should be asking for your advice.

    • 🙂 Thank you Karen ~ sometimes there is nothing more comforting than dawn & dusk; perfect for photography and also just for life.

      • I agree, It is a magical and healing time of day .

  11. Your photography is stunning. I love how your pictures express ideas an a way words can’t.. And thanks for following my blog.

    • Thank you very much ~ nothing quite like taking a photo that expresses so much more. Cheers!

    • Thank you ~ shooting at night is challenging yet a lot of beauty to uncover as well. Cheers.

      • Thank you for stopping by! I normally don’t shoot at night – it was just that too many people were around in the day time, and we wanted to see the desert at night. It was seven years ago 🙂

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