Sometimes the best nature pictures can come at the end of the day, when all the day creatures and plants start wrapping up their daily duties and preparing for the oncoming night, and while the nocturnal creatures and plants begin to make plans for the next several hours of darkness.
The remains of the day also happens to give some absolutely fantastic light in which to shoot – warm tones, golden hues – hence the term “golden hour”. And “hour” is about right, give or take a few minutes, depending on the season and where you live.
Even though each of the photos above have been post-processed to evoke a certain mood or feeling, they were all taken within the same one hour span prior to the sun fully setting. That the sun is low in the sky creates dramatic shadows, but at the same time warms the colors significantly. Most photographers are in love with this kind of light, for good reason – it’s beautiful, before and after post-processing gets applied.
You may also notice that in every one of the above shots, I’m shooting towards the sun. You don’t have to do this, obviously, but in the case of the top-left image, doing so created a very strong backlight effect on the plant. It also lent itself well towards the long shadows in the lower two images. Though you can’t really tell it, the sun was behind the silo in the upper-right image, making it really simple to come up with a striking silhouette, and lending a golden hue to the sky.
You can do all sorts of things with the light the golden hour creates. Depending on what you are shooting, though, you may need to increase your ISO, open your aperture, or bring a tripod. The sun may be out, but the amount of light getting into your camera is no where near that generated at high noon. Of course, the reverse can easily apply if you’re aiming directly at the setting sun and aiming to create silhouettes; drop your ISO to 100 and you’ll still have shutter speeds hovering around 1/500 to 1/1600. But for anything more than a silhouette, you’ll need to increase your ISO and open your aperture to let as much light in as possible if you plan on hand-holding (and don’t forget the inverse focal length rule – and having image stabilization really helps here!). If you have a tripod, on the other hand, keep your ISO as low as you can, and set your aperture for your desired effect, and go at it. No matter how you shoot during the golden hour, you’ll have a blast, I guarantee it!
P.S. If you’re not a night owl, but a morning person instead, the same rules apply to the rising sun. You’ll get fantastic golden light with dramatic shadows during the early morning hours. On the other hand, if neither the morning or evening are your cup of tea, you can still make great pictures, but I tell ya – you’re missing something special!
Until next time, keep on writing with light!