Golden hour (photography)
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In photography, the golden hour (sometimes known as magic hour, especially in cinematography) is the first and last hour of sunlight during the day when a specific photographic effect is achieved due to the quality of the light.
Typically, lighting is softer (more diffuse) and warmer in hue. Shadows are relatively non-existent if the sun is below the horizon. When the sun is near or below the horizon, sunlight travels through more of the atmosphere, reducing the intensity of the direct light, so that more of the illumination comes from indirect light from the sky (Thomas 1973, 9–13), reducing the lighting ratio. More blue light is scattered, so if the sun is present, its light appears more reddish. In addition, the sun's small angle with the horizon produces longer shadows.
“Hour” is used here quite loosely. The character of the lighting is determined by the sun's altitude, and the time for the sun to move from the horizon to a specified altitude depends on a location's latitude and the time of year (Bermingham 2003, 214). In Los Angeles, California, at an hour after sunrise or an hour before sunset, the sun has an altitude of about 10°–12°. For a location closer to the equator, the altitude is greater (or the time less), and for a location farther from the equator, the altitude is less (or the time greater). For a location sufficiently far from the equator, the sun may not reach an altitude of 10°, and the golden hour lasts for the entire day in certain seasons.
In the middle of the day, the bright overhead sun can create too-bright highlights and dark shadows. The degree to which overexposure can occur varies because different types of film and digital cameras have different dynamic ranges. This harsh-lighting problem is particularly important in portrait photography, where a fill flash is often necessary to balance lighting across the subject's face or body, filling in strong shadows that are usually considered undesirable.
Because the contrast is less during the golden hour, shadows are less dark, and highlights are less likely to be overexposed. In landscape photography, the warm color of the low sun is often considered desirable to enhance the colours of the scene.
Film director Terrence Malick has used this technique in films such as Days of Heaven, The New World, and The Tree of Life (in the latter the entire film was shot in this hour); and film director Stanley Kubrick made extensive use of the golden hour in Full Metal Jacket, among others.
See also 
- Though known as an hour, this can often be longer depending on distance from the equator. Sources differ on the definition of "golden hour" (and "magic hour", which is often treated as a synonym). Some, such as Lynch-Johnt and Perkins (2008, 68) consider it the time when the Sun is near but above the horizon. Others, such as Singleton (2000, 176) consider it the time "between sundown and darkness", when the Sun is below the horizon, i.e., during twilight. The character of the lighting during twilight is quite different from that when the Sun is above the horizon, and the former is sometimes known as the blue hour.
- The sun’s declination varies with the time of year.
- Solar altitude in Los Angeles, CA, at 1 hour after sunrise computed for 21 March, 21 June, 21 September, and 21 December 2009 using the U.S. Naval Observatory Data Services Altitude and Azimuth of the sun or Moon During One Day on 30 July 2009. Values obtained were 11.7°, 10.5°, 11.7°, and 9.75°.
- Singleton 2000, p. 176
- Bermingham, Alan. 2003. Location Lighting for Television. Boston: Focal Press. ISBN 978-0-240-51937-1
- Lynch, David K., and William Livingston. 1995. Color and Light in Nature. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-46836-1
- Lynch-Johnt, Barbara A., and Michelle Perkins. 2008. Illustrated Dictionary of Photography: The Professional's Guide to Terms and Techniques. Buffalo, NY: Amherst Media, Inc. ISBN 1-58428-222-3
- Singleton, Ralph S., and James A. Conrad. 2000. Filmmaker's Dictionary. 2nd ed. Ed. Janna Wong Healy. Hollywood, California: Lone Eagle Publishing Company. ISBN 1-58065-022-8
- Thomas, Woodlief, ed. 1973. SPSE Handbook of Photographic Science and Engineering. New York: John Wiley and Sons. ISBN 0-471-81880-1
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