Golden hour is a photographic term referring to a magical type of light that produces amazing photographs and is also referred to as the magic hour. One can even download apps that will give you the times and weather conditions to help you produce ideal photographs. The light is incredibly pleasing to photographers and cinematographers it has a warmth to it that delivers beautiful results.
It is that hour after the sun rises or before it sets and the light is warm and very natural, as the light moves to a lower or higher angle it takes on a diffused look.
People from around the world agree that African sunrises and sunsets are of the best in the world and this is in turn aided by the diverse terrain, with deserts and rolling hills, flat Karoo landscapes and the vastness of provinces such as the Northern Cape, it’s a landscape photographers dream. But then do not discount our cities and small towns, they also offer opportunities for one of nature’s greatest shows. The drama is always evident the light can turn a mundane scene into a magnificent one. A good sunset or sunrise is like a symphony of light which comes to a crescendo in the case of a sunset, as darkness takes over.
Photographing a sunset or sunrise is not just a hit or miss affair, yet on occasion if on the road early or in the late afternoon, opportunities do present themselves. Planning is critical, as one should ideally check the location, this can now be done using Google Earth for pre-trip preparation as well as Google to check the area for features. This does not always work, we once went to a town in the Northern Cape to take pictures of a Quiver Tree forest only the find that it had been closed to the public. The problem was solved with the assistance of a local farmer who took us onto his farm. Setting up the picture needs to be done at least 30 minutes before sunrise or sunset. Travel time needs to be factored in to ensure that you arrive on time. Also bear in mind that there are differences in the light at sunrise and sunset. At sunrise, light tends to be slightly less diffused yet more intense at the end of the day when the light spreads rather than being focused around the sun.
So let’s have a look at some ideas to get that great picture, many of these are ideal to have but not always possible if you have time constraints;
- Cloud cover adds to a picture, around 50 – 60% with gaps in the clouds, with full cloud cover there may still be a break on the horizon where colour can radiate across the picture.
- Low clouds can also add a lot of impact to morning and evening shots if they suggest impending storm activity, this also adds an element of drama.
- Experiment, don’t be afraid to think out the box, be different, play with aperture and shutter speeds and whilst composing the shot do not be scared to dispense with guidelines such as the “rule of thirds,” play with framing as well. Composition gives impact to your picture, look for lines, streams, waves, shapes and textures, they all add value.
- Get down low, sometimes the whole perspective changes if you are on your belly, in many cases this gives you a nice long shot with a clean backdrop.
- Don’t neglect the background, there may just be elements that add to the picture.
- Get your focus right, do not rely on the camera to do this for you, single point focus allows you to choose the point of focus, in wildlife photography I always try and focus on the animal’s eyes.
- Using a fast shutter speed allows you to freeze motion, a slower shutter speed works with moving water and freezes the movement.
- Be comfortable with your lenses, some photographers prefer prime lenses, yet most manufacturers are producing great kit lenses ranging from around 18-55mm, which encompass a broad range of results.
- Editing your shots is not cheating, it’s just like processing film when you adjust contrast, exposure, cropping and sharpness of a picture, do not be afraid to do this.
- Then don’t give up, if you are not happy try again, practice is the key here.
Lastly ensure that you have checked your equipment, charged batteries, and formatted memory cards before you head out. Take snacks and water, you may be out for a while, do not forget the obvious like a tripod and the base plate. Camping chairs are always a good idea as is a tarpaulin in case you do the belly shot! A good torch is also useful if you are shooting after dark and may want to “paint” an item. It’s also helpful if you are rummaging in your camera bag or changing lenses. I also take a head torch which allows me to be hands-free. A brush and cleaning wipes are invaluable as is a multi-tool, especially when changing base plates. To orientate the shot a small compass helps you set up and find east for the sunrise and west for the sunset. You can be fully set up before the real action of nature takes place. The process may not take long, but either way, it’s the epitome of a good day in Africa!