Light is the foundation of a good photograph, and while there are complicated techniques we can use to make the most of natural and artificial light, the easiest way to capture a great photo is to take advantage of the right time of day for beautiful photography.
Have you ever noticed that when you try and take photos in the middle of the day you end up with tired, washed-out images?
The good news is there are several hours in any given day that are ideal for landscape photography. We call them the blue hour and the golden hour, which both happen right around sunrise and sunset.
If you are looking for an easy way to improve your travel photography, simply change the time of day that you head outside with your camera.
Here’s what you need to know about blue hour and golden hour photography to capture stunning images!
- Camera equipment to photograph golden hour and blue hour
- What is golden hour?
- What is blue hour in photography?
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CAMERA GEAR FOR LANDSCAPE PHOTOGRAPHY
We use a Camera Gear Checklist to help us pack all the equipment we need – that way we don’t foget anything!
We recommend the following camera equipment for taking landscape photos:
1. Camera: You probably already have one, but if you’re looking for something new → check out the compact travel cameras we recommend!
2. Tripod: Using a tripod is something we’ll always recommend. There are many compact and lightweight options out there that are easy to use. → Check out the tripods we recommend!
3. Camera Bag: Protecting your camera from sand and water is essential. Using a camera backpack is so nice for hiking too. → Check out our camera backpack for outdoor photography.
4. Neutral density filter: There can be extreme differences in light when taking landscape pictures. To compensate for this variance of light you’ll need to use a neutral density filter. → Check out the Kase magnetic filters we use!
5. Camera cleaning kit: You’ll want a field cleaning kit to remove dust or water that WILL get on your lens. NOTE: this is not for cleaning the sensor. → This is the camera cleaning kit we use!
7. External hard drive: Don’t forget to copy the photos to a portable external hard drive ‘just in case’. → Check out these awesome portable external hard drives.
8. Headlamp: For the best sunrise shots, you want to arrive at your designated location well before the sun rises. Most of the time this means total darkness. Use a flashlight or headlamp to light your way from the parking lot to your spot. Wearing a headlamp allows you to set up your equipment without having to hold a flashlight. Remember to use the red light setting and keep the beam pointed on the ground in front of you to avoid disrupting other photographers in the area taking long exposure shots. → Check out these headlamps with the red light!
WHERE SHOULD I BUY CAMERA EQUIPMENT?
We get asked this question often. There are two places where we buy our cameras, lenses and other accessories: Amazon and B&H Photo.
B&H Photo is our go-to company for buying the high quality cameras, tripods and lenses. They are a reputable company that’s been in business for over 45 years. Their customer service and knowledge about photography equipment gives us peace of mind when spending money on higher ticket items.
Amazon is where we buy most of our camera accessories like filters, memory cards, etc. The free two-day shipping is always a plus. We have bought cameras, lenses and tripods from Amazon with no problem as well. They are good about returns, but won’t be able to answer gear-specific questions.
BLUE HOUR AND GOLDEN HOUR PHOTOGRAPHY TIPS
It’s important to understand the concept of blue hour and golden hour as it related to photography.
The photography tips below will help you make the most of the blue hour and golden hour light to capture those wow images.
And don’t forget to photograph sunrise and sunset too!
WHEN IS GOLDEN HOUR?
The golden hour is the period before the sun sets and after the sun rises.
It is not exactly an hour, but a time when you can expect soft afternoon or morning light that highlights red and orange hues.
Golden hour light is perfect for all types of photography — landscapes, portraits, wildlife, cityscapes, and macro photography.
The light during the golden hour is so much less intense than mid-day and you will avoid the harsh shadows that are so hard to avoid when the sun is high in the sky.
Golden Hour Light in the Morning
As landscape photographers, we take full advantage of the golden hour whenever we can, and that means getting up early.
The golden hour before and right after sunrise naturally brings out the red, orange and yellow tones in the landscape or reflected in the clouds.
Right before the sun rises, you can capture golden light reflected in the clouds in the sky as seen in the photo above taken at Capitol Reef National Park in Utah.
The golden light right after sunrise is especially noticable in southern Utah with the red rock landscapes.
The photo above was taken during the golden hour at Arches National Park. You can see how the orange tones really pop, causing a nice glow on the rocks.
Golden Hour Light in the Evening
You’ll find golden hour light right before the sun actually sets.
Again, it will cast a hue of yellow, orange and red on the scene or reflected in the clouds.
The image above is from Utah Lake State Park as the sun was setting. The golden light is reflected atop the surface of the water and ice chunks in the lake.
If there are clouds in the sky at sunset, they may reflect the golden hour colors of yellow, orange and red.
You’ll usually need to wait a bit for the sun to set before the color shows in the clouds. The photo above was the scene we captured at Antelope Island State Park in Utah.
WHAT IS BLUE HOUR IN PHOTOGRAPHY?
Blue hour happens on the other side of golden hour, roughly an hour before sunrise and an hour after sunset.
During this time period, the indirect sunlight is dominated by blue wavelengths.
Like the golden hour, the blue hour provides soft, diffused light, and while it may appear too dark to the naked eye, you’d be surprised at how much light your camera will pick up during the blue hour.
The blue hour is excellent for capturing landscapes, street scenes, structures, scenes with artificial light sources, motion blur, and light trails.
But the low light duirng blue hour is less ideal for portraits and wildlife photography as it becomes harder to capture crisp lines and detail.
When we are shooting landscapes, we like to capture scenes from both the golden hour and the blue hour, so we are often shooting at a location for an hour before and an hour after sunset.
So many people visit a location for the sunrise, but don’t get there in time for blue hour. Or they take their sunset photos and leave before blue hour starts. They are missing amazing opportunities to capture images during the best light for photography!
Explorer’s tip: Bring a headlamp with you when shooting the blue hour or golden hour so that if you’re walking to/from your location in the dark you can do so safely.
Blue Hour Color at Dawn
Remember that your camera picks up more light than your eyes do. Don’t give up on taking photos pre-sunrise or post-sunset — you never know what the sky has in store for you.
The blue, pink and purple tones during blue hour are usually seen as color reflected in the sky and clouds.
The shot above was taken before sunrise after a good long rain. Because we know Arches National Park so well, this was the first spot we visited to capture the unique puddle reflections before the sun came up.
Here the orange rocks stand out against the deep blue sky, but the tones are decidedly cool, and there isn’t a lot of contrast between light and dark.
The puddles make for interesting reflections in the foreground, and the moon is simply a fuzzy ball in the hazy sky.
Blue Hour Color at Dusk
Many people take their sunset photos then pack up and go home because they think once the sun goes down, it’s too dark to take pictures.
They are missing out on the fabulous scenes to photograph during blue hour. Remember, during this time, your camera will capture detail you can’t see with your eyes.
In the photo above from Zion National Park in Utah, we stayed after sunset to see what would happen. The sky and surrounding landscape started to glow with a pink hue.
This unique lighting at dusk provided interesting textures on the red rocks that would have been less apparent at other times of the day.
The duration of the golden hour and blue hour will depend on your location and the time of year, so it’s always wise to give yourself extra time when you’re shooting in unfamiliar locations.
Understanding the way light behaves and using it to your advantage is a great way to improve your photography, whether you’re just starting out or have been taking photos for years.