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When is Magic Hour, Really?


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Conventional wisdom dictates that photographers have but two quality times per day to do what they do outdoors—during the “magic hours” (also knows as “golden hours”) surrounding sunrise and sunset. There’s even an app called, well, “Magic Hour” to ensure you know when to begin setting up and breaking down equipment for those peak moments. But just as the adage suggests that “the best camera is the one you have on you,” the best time to photograph is the time you have at hand.

Midday has always been considered the bane of the photography world. Oft-repeated applesauce like “high noon casts harsh shadows” and “wake before dawn and nap when you can” are spouted as steadfast rules around which to order your time.

But I beg to differ.

The middle of the day can be a gorgeous and comfortable time to put your camera to work, even during oppressive Atlanta summers or blustery Buffalo winters. An early afternoon sun casts great lines and shadows, especially when working with architecture such as cityscapes. For instance, “Chicago, Now & Then” was taken with full sun in the middle of the Windy City between two landmark buildings: the new Soldier Field and its predecessor of the same name. This photo was taken with only an entry-level Nikon DSLR, its basic kit lens, and no filter.

ChicagoNowThen When is Magic Hour, Really? Guest Bloggers Photography Tips

Timing is everything. But the time allotted for photography is often narrowed by the confines of the operating schedules of parks, castles, junkyards, concerts, safaris, fairgrounds, airshows, racetracks, and historic homes. As a female photographer who often works alone, my time is limited by personal security concerns, making daylight preferable to nighttime. And as someone with a family, a job, and several hobbies, my time is self-limiting, too.

Different times of day force us to think differently, just as limiting ourselves to only one lens would do (A great experiment for another blog post!). With only a fisheye lens, for example, your brain would garner new ideas with freshness and variety. An ultra wide-angle lens could generate creative outlets for a novel photographic adventure that stretches your mind’s eye as well as your portfolio.

Another example: “Repose” was taken inside a butterfly sanctuary with natural lighting and a few unobtrusive lightbulbs. Note the soft shadows and the brilliant pop of color, even during midday. Time was limited to regular business hours, which, of course, did not include sunrise or sunset.

Repose When is Magic Hour, Really? Guest Bloggers Photography Tips

Other times, sheer serendipity played the greatest role. “Runaway Bride” was a happy accident whereby a future bride was resting her feet awaiting her pre-wedding photo shoot. I was simply in the opportune place and time, intending to photograph rusty cars and farm equipment. After gaining verbal permission from my subject to photograph her without any identifying features, I took only a handful of photos. We exchanged no contact information—only smiles and salutations.

RunawayBride When is Magic Hour, Really? Guest Bloggers Photography Tips

Another unplanned shot, “Opening Day,” was taken en route to visiting relatives when my husband and I happened upon a gargantuan sunflower field. A small gathering of other photographers had made their way through the dirt path leading to the unending supply of sunshine-seekers. As my luck would have it, the time was nearly noon. But who am I to deny myself an impromptu photo shoot because of some silly rule-that-isn’t-a-rule about the proper time to take pictures?

OpeningDay When is Magic Hour, Really? Guest Bloggers Photography Tips

One final reason to spend quality daytime with your camera is simply to avoid the crush of tripod-wielding photographers. Like a Visa card, they’re everywhere you want to be. They are bogarting precious space and intruding on your background. But you can always venture out while the Magic Hour crowd is having lunch and a nap.

So, let’s get out there and photograph, shall we? Now is a good time.

Debbie Paulding is just your ordinary grandmommy who runs marathons and triathlons, jumps out of airplanes, travels the world on a shoestring budget, teaches Spanish, and edits an international magazine. Oh, and she does a bit of photography, too. View and leave comments at: 


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