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My Magic Hour Photography Guide

Nature has an effortless way of recreating its distinct beauty with every sunrise and sunset. For photographers, part of the excitement is chasing this light. During golden hour, blue hour, or twilight, grabbing my camera to catch these moments gives me a burst of energy. This palpable inspiration hopefully develops into dazzling photographs, but finding the space and time to set up a shot just before the sun fades, is a thrilling experience. Whether you find yourself rolling up your sleeves to start the day, or just before turning in for the evening, capturing the perfect shot as the sky bursts with color is an enchanting way to be at one with Mother Earth.

Capturing Light

Photographing light at the right moment is part magic and part timing. During golden hour, blue hour, or twilight, the way that the subject or scene is illuminated varies by the elevation of the sun. So even if one were to go to the same location to shoot the same scene day after day, the sky and lighting would be unique. If you are interested in reading more about being a “lighthunter,” click here to learn about the technical aspects of the sun’s degree angles and how its placement determines when to grab your camera and capture the magic.

One does not need an expensive camera to take beautiful photographs. Most smartphones have very high-quality cameras! However, when it comes to professional photography, capturing light with an SLR and dSLR camera that has manual modes can help. Depending on your experience level, using one of these cameras can seem complicated. A simple way to wrap one’s mind around capturing light is by first realizing that it is all about exposure, which is the amount of light that reaches your camera sensor. The three most important camera settings to adjust exposure are: shutter speed, aperture, and ISO. To put in layman’s terms: shutter speed is the measurement of time that the shutter is open, aperture controls the brightness of the image that travels through the lens, and ISO is the camera’s sensitivity to light. For a more in-depth definition of this Trinity of photography, click here.

Golden Hour

Golden hour is defined as the first hour before sunrise and the last hour before sunset. During this time the sky emits soft, warm light that can tap into a nostalgic memory or emotion. I find that shooting landscapes and seascapes during this time allows for quite diverse images, since the light changes and morphs by the minute. Making each frame its own special moment as the sun is still low in the sky. This is also a wonderful time for shooting portrait photography. If the lighting is used as a backlight it can create a halo effect around the subjects, which has a dream-like quality. Also, if the model is posed to catch the light against their face, it can also help minimize and even erase blemishes that would otherwise be noticeable in studio light.

Blue Hour

Blue hour arrives shortly before sunrise and just after sunset. During this time the sun is just below the horizon, which emits ambient blue tones that has a calming effect, evoking a certain mysterious quality. Because blue hour's cool tones, the colors of the sky create a gradient from blue to orange or yellow, making this is an excellent time for wide landscapes, particularly, moon photography.


Twilight is a bit trickier, since it has different definitions based on the sun’s elevation and the amount of natural light that is being emitted. There is civil twilight (the brightest form of twilight), nautical twilight (less bright and artificial light may be needed to capture certain scenes), and astronomical twilight (when celestial bodies can be seen with the naked eye). The transition to twilight is also dependent on location. For example, twilight is shorter at the equator. Twilight is also uniquely different when closer to the north or the south pole. For more technical information about twilight, click here. It is best to shoot wide city landscapes, especially those with artificial lighting like car lights or streetlamps during this time.

The magic of these moments is that they are fleeting. Twice a day the transition of the sun allows for a varied spectrum of color and light that can be simply appreciated while gazing out at the horizon or captured and transformed into stunning images. For further reading, check out this article that interviewed photographers from all walks of life as they discuss and debate their own tricks to utilizing these special times of the day to create their art.

I hope that this inspires you to get outside and immerse yourself in the beautiful bounty of natural light. Do you have a special practice or location for shooting during magic hours? Please comment below your favorite time of the day to photograph!

Thanks for reading,


Thank you Richard Trenner for the kind, complementary words about this piece. I love your description of blue hour and the fun play on words with your haiku!


Thanks so much Paulasto! Glad to hear you can resonate with this race. I’ve also run into the situation while luxuriating in nature and then notice that I’m late for dinner or some event. Figuring out the balance can be frustrating, but one of my favorite times to photograph is right around the dinner hour or super early in the morning of course.


Feb 05, 2021

Thanks for telling your readers and viewers about how you make photographs during the "golden hour." And thanks for sharing some lovely pictures. I especially admire "Blue Hour"— how the deep, delicate blue and molten gold of the sky and the creek (or tidal estuary?) are variations on the same lovely theme. I also really like the full moon above the Nantucket moors—beautiful partly because the picture is simple, like a visual haiku: land, sky, moon. Sometimes more is more, but in this case "moor" is more.


nicely stated! It's a race against time to be in the right place at these moments, but so worthwhile. when I take trips with friends they always complain that dinner time is when I get the most invested in being "out there" - So much for fine dining until well after dark!

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