The “Golden Hour” is a term used by photographers for the hour after sunrise and the hour before sunset when light is especially conducive to beautiful pictures. During sunrise and sunset, when the sun is near or below the horizon, its light has to travel through more of the earth’s atmosphere before it reaches you. This decreases the intensity of direct sunlight, and so it is more balanced with the indirect light coming from the sky, creating less glare spots or shadows on your subjects. Think of it as being in a studio, and using only one 1500 Watt diffused light (midday sun), vs. using a 1000 Watt and a 500 watt diffused light (Golden Hour).
The Golden Horse in Iceland by Trey Ratcliff
The “golden” or softer orange and red tones come from the light being more diffused by traveling through more of the atmosphere before it reaches your eyes. Purple and Blue light have short wavelengths and scatter over the longer distance, while colors with longer wavelengths like reds and oranges continue on their way and are seen the most during sunrise and sunset.
Joshua Tree at Sunset by Sandy Redding
There are many factors that affect how long the golden hour in any given location might last. Locations far from the equator where during certain seasons the sun never fully rises, the golden hour can last all day. Locations closer to the equator where the sun makes a complete arc year round will have a shorter golden hour.
Bagan Balloons, Mynamar by Martin Sojka
So if you are an early riser, wake up and explore the sunrise with your camera. If you like to sleep in, pay attention to when the sun sets in your location, and plan to head out and photograph then. Shooting during the golden hour doesn’t ensure amazing photographs, but it is a great way to test your creativity and learn more about light!