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Ambience and Light: Photography In the Golden Hour and Blue Hour

Ambience and Light: Photography In the Golden Hour and Blue Hour

Any form of outdoor photography is heavily governed by the time of day and the quality of light that it provides. Whether for portrait photography, photographing wildlife, travel, or landscapes, certain times of the day provide more beneficial lighting than others. This is mainly because the intensity of light varies from the direction of the sun which in turn affects the quality of light that is cast on to every visual element in frame. Photography can be done at any time of the day but of course, there are times that are more beneficial to shoot. 

The time of day affects many aspects of the light and the environment that have huge effects visually on the image. The quality of light affects depth, texture, as well as the hue of objects illuminated in the images which consequently affects the overall mood of an image. Softer light from certain times of the day leads to softer edges, more balanced luminosity, less reflections and glare, and smoother textures.

Under harsh daylight when the sun is casting light from a more direct angle, both the lights and the shadows are more intense. Shadows are also more condensed to a particular area and which means that distant details may lack depth and appear flat. At the same time, the quality, direction, and intensity of light causes one of the most important obstacles in outdoor and landscape photography, which is dynamic range. 

Dynamic range is the spectrum of light that the camera’s sensor can record in one single image. In application, this is why backlit images leave a silhouette because the details on the darker parts of the image can not be recorded due to lack of luminosity. Different times of day and positions of the sun cause the intensity of light to vary making it harder for certain times of the day to capture outdoor images that are balanced in terms of luminosity and detail. 

golden hour

Landscape Photography During the Golden Hour 

If you ask any landscape photographer, they would tell you that the golden hour is one of the most magical moments of any day no matter what location you are photographing. The golden hour gives a unique feel that enhances the ambiance of every location. This magic hour starts the moment the sun begins to cast warm light onto the sky before sunrise, or as the sun begins to set in the afternoon. During this time, the low and tangential direction of sunlight is more diffused by the particles in the atmosphere and the clouds that it casts a warmer and softer light than the rest of the day. During this time, it gives vibrant colors to the usual blue skies and enhances the contrast of the sky as the background to any landscape photograph. 

When doing landscape photography, the golden hour is one of the best times to use exposure techniques. With the right visual effects in mind, long exposure techniques can refine and enhance your composition and visual design of any outdoor photograph. At this time, lighting is also more gentle and generally covers less dynamic range. 

There are various ways to photograph landscapes during the golden hour. As the light gets more balanced between the sky and the foreground, single exposure images are easier to do. However, shooting with the sun in frame is a totally different game. With the bright sun in frame, your foreground elements become less luminous and less detailed.

The tricky part of landscape photography at sunset is capturing both the sky and the foreground that represents your location while keeping both extremes of luminosity detail and color rich. Most cameras can’t capture such in a single frame which is why exposure blending or HDR are often very handy approaches. 

cityscape photography in golden hour

The goal of this approach is to capture multiple exposures with varying levels of brightness to get multiple images with the most detailed exposure for each part. The exposures are then combined later on into a blended image that uses the best exposed parts of each one. Whether you are doing long exposures with a moving foreground element or just quick exposures, it is best done with a good tripod.

The tripod’s role is to keep your multiple exposures aligned so that blending the exposures will be easier and sharpness of the images is maintained. While it is possible to be done manually by tweaking the settings after each shot, exposure bracketing sequences are best done with a good reliable trigger for camera control. This remote control can be the one to set the exposure values on the camera to program it to take consecutive exposures with different brightness in a stepwise manner. Using a good camera remote trigger makes the process quicker and more seamless so you can focus on the creative side. 

The MIOPS Flex is an advanced camera remote trigger that was created to aid landscape photographers in many ways. One of the features of this smartphone camera remote control is an automated way to shoot in exposure bracketing and HDR. With your smartphone as the control panel, you can set the number of exposures, set the intervals between them, and trigger the exposures to start even from a distance.

On top of that, the MIOPS Flex is an even smarter device as it can give you a real-time preview of the HDR output just a few seconds after the exposures are taken, and saves the result on a separate built-in storage. This amazing tool allows you to shoot HDR and exposure blended images on-the-go no matter where you are shooting. 

blue hour

Landscape Photography During the Blue Hour

While the blue hour happens just right before or after the golden hour, the character and behavior of light is very different. The blue hour happens before sunrise when the distant indirect light of the sun begins to light up the sky and after sunset when the sun has dipped below the horizon but still gives off indirect light to the atmosphere. The blue hour has a different character altogether. For one, this is the time when the foreground is almost as bright as the sky and is therefore the easiest time to achieve a balanced exposure.

When photographing cityscapes, this window of opportunity is the perfect time to capture a relatively dim and highly detailed sky against a foreground of a city that is just beginning to turn on its lights. Even without post processing or HDR techniques, a 10-minute window within the blue hour would give a perfect balance between the sky and the foreground just before it gets dark. 

The blue hour is the perfect time to shoot long exposures especially if you don’t have any neutral density filters to use. In a natural landscape setting, the relative dimness of the surroundings allows you to prolong exposures without having to cut any light which is perfect for shooting slow movement that will give smooth and serene surfaces to a moving sky or water surface. When shooting within the city, the blue hour is a great opportunity not just to capture movement of clouds or water but also to make use of dynamic vehicular traffic trails to enhance your visual design.

landscape photography in golden hour

Without the need for an ND filter, one can do quick 3-8 second exposures just as the sunset ends. As time passes and as the environment gets darker, one can do even longer exposures to achieve any intended effect. This can be to smoothen any water surface with a current, to show dynamic movement of clouds, or to illustrate the flow of traffic. 

To do long exposures during the blue hour, a sturdy tripod is a must. Any minor movement of the camera, even just from pressing the shutter button can blur your image and ultimately ruin your photograph. If you’re doing a 3-minute exposure, a fraction of a second of movement can render it absolutely useless no matter if it happens at the beginning or at the end of the shot. Filters are often unnecessary during the blue hour. Since the light is very minimal compared to daytime, there is no need to reduce light to be able to lengthen exposures. The luminosity of the sky is also closest to the ground so graduated neutral density filters aren’t generally used since most cameras can compensate for any difference if any during post processing. 

Most cameras can only do a maximum of 30 seconds for each exposure. To shoot longer than that if your intended result requires it, the combination of using bulb mode and a camera remote trigger is the best way to go. The remote trigger should be able to set the camera’s shutter speed in bulb mode so it can keep the shutter open for as long as you intend.

As an added benefit, using a remote camera control will totally eliminate the chances of camera shake from pressing the shutter button. In this situation, the MIOPS Flex still proves to be an efficient tool. By controlling your camera with your smartphone, you can set your exposures to last for minutes or even hours without having to touch your camera. The timed release setting can give you shutter speeds that are precise down to milliseconds and can even trigger a delayed shutter release if needed.

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Another capability of the MIOPS flex that are useful for both the golden hour and the blue hour, and generally any time of the day is it’s array of time-lapse shooting functions. Using the MIOPS Flex, you can set your exposure settings through the smartphone app, or even let your camera take care of the metering for each image, and designate the interval of exposures. At the same time, this intelligent camera remote tool is also capable of on-the-go time-lapse assembly and give you a quick preview of what your time-lapse would look like and even save it to its own built-in storage. 

Landscape photography can be done any time of the day but these two moments of greater ambient light are definitely beneficial for more vibrant and more dynamic images.

Blog Credit: Nicco Valenzuela

Nicco started his photographic journey in 2007 practicing the craft as a hobby. Currently, he shoots for various local and international architectural firms and construction companies. Out of his love for sharing his knowledge, Nicco began writing about photography and various pieces of gear.