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Blue Hour vs Golden Hour – we see both terms used a lot when discussing landscape photography.
What exactly are they? Is one better than the other, Blue Hour vs Golden Hour? How do we take landscape photos during their lighting conditions to highlight the light qualities of these times?
Let’s find out!
Blue Hour vs Golden Hour
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Golden Hour photography and Blue Hour photography both refer to lighting conditions that change the color temperature of the light from the sun and how photographers can take advantage of those changes.
I find I can’t discuss one without at least mentioning the other. As a landscape photographer, I’m always looking for an edge or a way to make my landscape images a good enough work of art to match the natural beauty I’m experiencing while out on a photography trek.
Golden Hour Explained
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What is Golden Hour in photography? Having Golden Hour explained refers to much more than merely time range. It refers to a light quality, a color cast to the light, and even to a mood.
During Golden Hour, the light quality and color tint changes to warmer, softer light. Direct sunlight is a hard light, because it comes from a point light source far away.
You can see the difference that distance of the point light source makes in how hard or soft the light quality is by moving any small photo light you have closer or further from a subject. Put the light on a stand, lower any ambient lighting in the room, and take pics of some small object, say a basketball.
The further away the light is placed, the more “point” type it becomes. I used a basketball in the illustration because it fits well with illustrating the relationship of Earth to the light coming from the sun.
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How do we modify our artificial light sources to make them softer? Generally, we use some sort of diffuser. A soft box, a photo umbrella, or a simple diffuser mounted directly to a flash softens the light by some amount or another.
Keep thinking about that diffuser, during Golden Hour, the sunlight travels through more of the atmosphere. This has two results.
One, it changes the color of the sunlight, making it warmer since shorter light waves are more likely to be attenuated than longer waves, Short light waves are on the cooler end of the visible spectrum, while long light waves are on the warmer end. That’s why Golden Hour sunlight is warmer.
Secondly, traveling through more of the atmosphere has a diffusing effect on the sunlight, making it less of a true point source. And that’s why Golden Hour light is slightly softer than midday direct sunlight. And if you use skylight during this time as the light source, then you have made a softbox, more or less, for the sun.
Learn More:Best Camera Settings for Landscape Photography Beginner to Advanced Landscape Photography Techniques What Time Is Golden Hour?
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What time is Golden Hour and how does one use it in landscape photography?
There is no set time or time period for Golden Hour, but we can figure out when it is and how long it lasts with the help of an ephemeris smartphone app or a website such as sunrise-sunset.org which can display all of the times of Blue Hour vs Golden Hour.
Golden Hour has the sun above the horizon, but not very high above it. In the morning, Golden Hour will start at sunrise and continue on for a while until the golden tint goes away. About that same length of time before sunset and lasting to sunset will be afternoon Golden Hour.
So, when is it? Remember, light and color can change rapidly during these times, weather conditions can also play a part.
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Knowing the times will be a great aid to us in order to be able to use these lighting conditions for landscape photography. Let’s take a very central US location, Omaha Nebraska and a date of September 20th, 2021. The website shows us that on that day sunrise was 7:08am and sunset was 7:25pm.
If we look at when twilight begins and ends, that gives us a good idea of a time frame for Golden Hour. Morning twilight began at 6:42am and evening twilight ended at 7:51pm. So there was about 30 minutes of twilight on each end of the day.
As a personal method of calculation, I will take that length of time and choose between double and triple that period. This is based on my own personal experience. As mentioned earlier, light conditions can change rapidly, both the intensity and color tint. Weather can often be a huge consideration figuring out the when of Blue Hour vs Golden Hour.
I’ve found that this seat of my pants general calculation works most of the time. So on that day and at that latitude, Golden Hour would last about 1 hour 15 minutes. In the morning, ending around 8:20am and in the evening starting around 6:00pm.
Blue Hour Explained
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What is Blue Hour in photography? As with Golden Hour, having Blue Hour explained is more than merely a time period. The colors for Blue Hour are much cooler and the light intensity changes really quick along with the color changes.
Blue Hour is a much softer light than direct sunlight because there is no sun in the picture. Not even above the horizon at all. All the illumination comes from skylight. The sky is still lit by the sun, but night is coming in from the other direction.
The colors are very interesting, they can be pinkish, red, purple, and even violet. Light intensity will fade from not much less than sunset/sunrise to times that are closer to astrophotography.
Blue Hour landscapes can exhibit a dark, somber mood in photography. Or you could shoot for a peaceful mood, such as feeling at ease with the world. Nature under Blue Hour skies can be wonderfully colored.
What Time Is Blue Hour?
photo by Jennifer J Taylor via iStock
We can use the same tools for our Blue Hour calculations as we did for Golden Hour timing. Either a smartphone app ephemeris or a web page like sunrise-sunset.org
On that same day in Omaha, sunrise was 7:08am and sunset was 7:25pm. Morning twilight began at 6:42am and evening twilight ended at 7:51pm. So there was about 30 minutes of twilight on each end of the day.
The timing during Blue Hour vs Golden Hour is more critical. The light intensity changes from minute to minute. And the change is also very large, sometimes changing as much as 2 or 3 stops in a couple of minutes.
Blue Hour blends in seamlessly with other photography times. In the morning, you can begin with astrophotography, shoot during Blue Hour, photograph the sunrise, and then take advantage of Golden Hour lighting after sunrise. The same thing for evening Blue Hour, simply reversed, Golden Hour to sunset to Blue Hour to astrophotography.
Landscape Subject Matter Blue Hour vs Golden Hour
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What type of landscape photography can we capture with these two times, Blue Hour vs Golden Hour photography?
Since color tint changes and being softer light are in common with Blue Hour vs Golden Hour photography, our subject matter could be chosen in order to take advantage of these qualities. Really, almost any landscape image you’ve already taken could be reimaged and reimagined with Blue or Golden Hour.
Since Golden Hour is generally warmer than midday, and much warmer than twilight, we could also base subject matter choices on what subjects will benefit from the warmer light. Perhaps Autumn scenes, a desertscape, or a cityscape.
Blue Hour vs Golden Hour is much cooler, plus the lower light intensity may cause large areas of deep shadow in the images, so we could choose subject matter based on that. Seascapes, forests, and cityscapes can make wonderful views under Blur Hour lighting.
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You will want a tripod for most of these shots. Even though the light values may be somewhat high initially, or we have a fast lens or good image stabilization in our gear, using the sweet spot aperture seems to work well for a lot of scenes.
The swifty changing conditions may make it a little more difficult to use some of our other specialty landscape photography techniques, such as HDR, using ND or GND filters, and depth of field techniques, but we can try them out, see what works. Maybe come back to the same spot for a few days in a row.
The best part of engaging in Blue Hour vs Golden Hour photography is that the images you capture will look great and you will enjoy capturing and post-processing them.
Try it out yourself with your favorite spots and then use the techniques when on your photo treks. You are sure to be pleased with your results and with the fun of creating them.
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