7 Tips for Shooting Magic Hour

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Ask any photographer and they will tell you that one of the most important elements in photography is light. Magic hour, also commonly referred to as “golden hour,” is the time of day when the sun is near the horizon and is glowing. It occurs twice a day—during the first and last hour of sunlight of the day. As the sun is either rising or setting, the sunlight creates a dripping golden light that casts a warm glow on everything. This hazy light makes everything appear gorgeous and is why most photographers agree that magic hour is the best time of day to shoot.

The direction of light plays a huge role in photography. The best way to visualize the effects of magic hour is by imagining a flashlight. If you hold a flashlight pointed downwards above your subject’s head, you create harsh shadows on facial features, blown out highlights and will most likely capture squinty-eyed subjects. This is similar to what occurs when shooting photos in the middle of the afternoon when the sun is directly overhead.

However, when you hold a flashlight pointed directly towards a subject’s face, there aren’t as many shadows due to the light hitting the face more evenly. During magic hour, the sun is directly in front of you and hits the sky and land, which preserves details while creating a moody atmosphere. Here are 7 tips for making the most magic out of magic hour.

1. Select the perfect location.

Always keep in mind that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. This is important to consider when selecting where to shoot. Also, determine what effect you want to achieve; do you want a warm glow to shine on a subject’s face or do you want light streaming through from behind the subject’s shoulders, creating a lens flare? There are many scene options to choose, ranging from warm light cast on a wide-open field to warm light seeping through the treetops of a forest. Therefore it is important to envision beforehand what type of image is being captured.

2. Choose between morning light and evening light.

As was stated, there are two opportunities throughout the day to shoot during magic hour. Both sunrise and sunset create beautiful light, but there is something about morning light that is less foggy and adds a dewy, soft look to photos. The evening light is still beautiful though and casts a stronger warm hue on its subjects. But if you are going for pure light, morning light may be the way to go.

3. Schedule the shoot accordingly.

Getting the best light is definitely worth the wait. It is therefore useful to determine when magic hour occurs in your area. There is an app called Magic Hour that will track your location and tell you what time magic hour happens on a given day.

One thing to note while shooting during magic hour is how quickly the light source can change. Make sure you factor in the amount of setup time to make most of this short and sweet, soft light. Also, the scene can look different every few minutes. It is best to stay the whole hour and keep shooting to capture as many variations as possible.

4. Magic hour with a chance of cloudiness.

You may come across a time when you have scheduled a magic hour shoot weeks in advance, only to find that it is cloudy. Now what? Like most things in life, not everything can be controlled. The good news is that cloudy weather can actually act as a filter to diffuse the light and create soft, cool, and even light. Even though you won’t get that golden sunlight streaming through, the clouds will still allow you to capture beautiful images.

5. Magic Hour through an iPhone.

Nowadays, it is way more common for someone to have an iPhone handy than a digital SLR camera in tow. However, the high-quality camera featured in the iPhone allows for beautiful magic hour photos. To do so, point your iPhone towards your magic hour scene. The on-screen picture will most likely appear dark due to the phone’s light meter darkening the picture to compensate for the light of the bright sun. Before snapping the shot, tap on a darker spot of the scene on the phone screen. This tells the phone to balance the light based on the area that was tapped. Your picture should then brighten right up. If it brightens up too much, try tapping on a spot that is a little lighter than the last spot. Tap around until you get the appropriate lighting.

6. Play around with lens flare and rim lighting.

Many effects can be achieved at this time of day. Lens flare occurs when excessive light enters the lens and causes the light to be scattered and reflected. This creates a large array of effects in the form of haze, starbursts and circles. While lens flare and light leak may not be for everyone, they are fun to play around with and can add an unexpected touch to your pictures. To create more lens flare, allow direct sunlight to enter the lens by positioning the shot to allow for the sun to peek through the edge of the frame and behind your subject.

Rim lighting is when the sun casts a golden glow on your subject from behind and surrounds your subject. It creates an airy effect that is exceptionally stunning for portraits and close ups. Bokeh is another effect that can also be shot by shooting at wider apertures.

7. Bring a tripod

Having a tripod in hand isn’t a necessity, but it is useful for stabilizing your camera. As the light begins to fade, your shutter speeds become slower. This is especially true when attempting to capture movement. Therefore, a tripod ensures that the camera remains steady. 

Magic hour is a time when all things are right in the photography world.  Sometimes you just have to drop what you are doing, grab your camera and capture some good light. These sun-soaked images are not only great for sharing with loved ones and displaying in your home on your digital picture frame, they also give a unique aesthetic to special moments. Everyone should get the chance to wake up early or wait until the sun sets to capture some gorgeous light and photographs.

About the Author: Laura O’Donnell writes creative content on behalf of the digital photo frame providers at Nixplay. As an avid writer and learner, she loves to use her skills for engaging others in important topics in creative and effective ways. When she is not working, she loves meeting new people, traveling, and bringing her Pinterest dreams to life. Find her on LinkedIn.