The golden hour, also known as the magic hour, refers to the period just after sunrise or just before sunset, and its length depends on where you are and what time of year it is.
Some say that the golden hour is an hour after sunrise and an hour before sunset. It seems as easy as falling off a log, just show up at the right time and your photos will be amazing right? No.
The afternoon is a lot easier for several reasons. You can see where the sun is and decide where you want to be. You can also decide if it’s worth waiting around or if the clouds will block out all that beautiful light. Also there’s a good chance you’re already awake.
I prefer the morning because I’m a masochist, and because it’s usually much calmer. But instead of finishing dinner and heading out late afternoon I have to set my alarm, fortunately I have insomnia so I’m already up.
If you’re taking photos in your backyard you can wake up at first light or slightly earlier, otherwise you need to give yourself a few hours. Consider the drive, stopping for coffee, reflecting on the meaning of life (should be done while it’s still dark) and time to set everything up.
So today I got up at 3:30, decided to go out at 4 and was in place with coffee reflecting by 5:00. I watched the sky get light, the clouds open up then close again before it got darker and a few minutes later it rained.
Of course you can take photos anytime, especially if you’re not shooting landscapes, you just won’t have that warm, magic light that photographers crave, you also won’t have to get up knowing it might rain on your parade.
Walt Whitman once said: “To me, every hour of the day and night is an unspeakably perfect miracle.” It may help to tell yourself that while waiting for the storm to pass and realizing that you could easily be in bed dreaming of rainbows and unicorns.
Note: rainbows only happen near the golden hour when the sun is low in the sky and unicorns are rarely found in the daytime, plus you need a virgin to lure them in close enough for a good shot.
The Gateless Gate is a collection of 48 Zen koans compiled in the 13th century by the Chinese Zen master Mumon Ekai. Pausha Foley, an amazing artist and self described strange creature that doesn’t exist, explains the gateless gate in a way that even a child like me of 58 can understand:
“The gate is a creation of the human mind. As long as one believes oneself to be one’s mind, the gate is as solid and real as the mind is. As soon as one cases to identify with one’s mind however, the mind and all its creations reveal themselves as what they are: a bunch of ideas, devoid of any substance. So, from within the mind the gate exists, from outside of the mind it does not.”
If this isn’t crystal clear by now I give you koan 7, Joshu Washes the Bowl:
A monk asked Zhaozhou to teach him.
Zhaozhou asked, “Have you eaten your meal?”
The monk replied, “Yes, I have.”
“Then go wash your bowl”, said Zhaozhou.
At that moment, the monk was enlightened.
Of course one very important point must be made; if you don’t rinse your bowl before putting it in the dishwasher, it will not get completely clean and you will not be enlightened. The cleaning lab at the Good Housekeeping Institute says otherwise, but they also say that pre-rinsing is a needless time suck. Obviously they’ve never heard of the theory of relativity.
It was a brisk 25 degrees this morning so I decided to go out and photograph the sunrise. My destination was the Leacock Presbyterian Church in Intercourse, Pennsylvania. Its close, I know exactly where the sun comes up, and there’s a big tree and a little shed for the foreground.
Since I was up an hour and a half too early to leave, I considered other possibly more interesting places to go. Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area had potential with thousands of snow geese, but it’s further away and there’s a hike down a dark trail to the lake.
I considered various other lakes, rivers, and bridges with great views, but spectacular sunrises do not magically appear every morning, as all photographers know. So I decided on Intercourse, which is always a good choice.
The sunrise was perfect as every sunrise is, though my photos insist that it was nothing special. But I went out, got some fresh air in between cigarettes, and watched the sun come up and another day begin.
As scientists, taxi drivers and long haul truckers know, the sunrise is an illusion. To get up early, stand outside on a cold morning, and watch a beautiful illusion is worth it to me every time.