The 15 Magical Minutes in Landscape Photography
The golden hour
"We have 15 minutes. After that, it will be too late: we will pack our photo equipment and tripods." We have said this sentence hundreds of times. We have waited for this moment for days sometimes. It has a different name in different countries. In English, it’s called the "golden hour". French photographers call it the "magic moment,” "quarter hour of truth,” or "magical quarter hour." But what exactly is it? Is it a reality or a myth created by landscape photographers?
It is a reality
During our travel photography workshops, we must invariably answer these questions. Our response is as invariable. The "golden hour" exists; it is a reality that we must always be prepared for. Unfortunately, it is not predictable. Sometimes you have to wait days before all the conditions are ideal. It varies according to the region of the world. But one thing is absolutely certain: it is the best time of the day to take landscape photographs. This does not mean that the photos made at other times of the day are bad, but they will certainly suffer by comparison.
A unique moment in the morning
The golden hour occurs at dawn. It begins a few minutes before sunrise and continues for a few minutes afterwards. The first prerequisite is to have a good sunrise. A few minutes before the sun appears on the horizon, the sky begins to blush with color. The first fingers of golden light just barely touch the landscape. Its colors shine out brilliantly. The higher the sun rises, the more brilliant and rich the colors. This only lasts for a few minutes while the sun is very low in the sky. Soon, the sun has risen higher, and the rays of light no longer come in at the same angle. The light becomes too intense. The colors return to normal. The magic moment is over.
Whatever the season
For us, the best characteristic of the golden hour is that brings out the color tones of the season. In winter, it shows up cold, blue tones. Spring is the season of soft, fragile colors. Summer is the season for warm, orange-red tones. Fall is an exceptional season for sunsets.
While photos taken at dusk are often very richly colored, they often remain in warm tones. It is very difficult to have cool tones except after a heavy rain or some other intense storm, when the air has been washed clean. Then, the light is refracted differently. But these conditions are relatively rare in the evening. For this reason, the magic hour usually occurs in the morning, although the evening is still an excellent time take pictures of landscapes which consist largely of rock, such as those found in the western United States. We believe that this phenomenon is due to the fact that the earth's atmosphere is much warmer than it is in the morning.
A very special moment
The golden hour is not a myth but a reality. It is a fleeting moment that only happens in the morning. It begins before sunrise. It is never guaranteed to happen. However, photographers must always be present so as not to miss it. When you have the chance to take pictures at this moment, it is a really wonderful experience because the color and lighting are perfect. You must be patient and work to find the best vantage points from which to view the landscape. It is a real challenge. But the satisfaction of preserving the ephemeral beauty of the golden hour is more than worth it.