Golden years

“Lost, yesterday, somewhere between sunrise and sunset, two golden hours, each set with sixty diamond minutes. No reward is offered for they are gone forever.” – Horace Mann

Back in the 1980s when I was a photo student at Sacramento City College (SCC) I became good friends with fellow student Randy Allen. He went on to become a photographer, then photo editor at the Sacramento Bee and now has come full circle as a photography instructor at SCC. I remember during a slide class he showed a couple of photos. The first was of a beautiful sunset from a vacation in Hawaii. The sun was an orange ball just before it sank below the horizon just above a dark blue Pacific Ocean. The second picture was of his wife Carol on a beach of fine sand and bathed in the last bits of the warm glow of a setting sun, palm trees swaying against a deep blue sky. Allen surprised the class, who thought the two pictures were taken at two different places or times, when he said that second photo was taken at about the 180 degrees in the opposite direction taken only a few seconds apart. It was a perfect example of the “golden hour,” which is the subject of the newest Readers Photo Challenge assignment.

The golden hour is the period of time just after sunrise or just before sunset, lasting, as the name suggests, for about an hour or so. As the sun sinks low towards the horizon its light travels through more atmosphere picking up color from particulates and pollution in the air and creates a warm pleasing glow. The light also scatters through the air a bit more making it a bit less harsh. For portraits the low angle of the light helps makes it more pleasing than the harsh overhead light of midday, which creates some harsh shadows.

But it’s not just for portraits. Golden hour light enhances just about every kind of photography from sports to landscapes. While the golden hour is known for its quality light, what can be lacking is its quantity. The light is warm and pleasing to the eye but be aware there’s less of it. This usually means two things: First, you may need to use wider apertures, which decreases depth of field and makes getting sharp pictures more difficult. Second, you may need to use slower shutter speeds, which may make camera shake a problem. You may want to use a tripod to combat any blurriness brought on by camera movement. You can bump up the camera’s ISO (it’s light sensitivity), but that may lead to more noise in your photos.

Like in Horace Mann’s quote above, golden hours happen twice a day. They often go unnoticed and are lost to the sands of time. The golden hour isn’t exactly 60 minutes. Weather conditions can extend or shorten the time. This time of year the evening hour starts around 8:00 p.m. and ends about 9:30 p.m. while the morning session goes from about 6:00 a.m. to around 7:30 a.m. Time is a bit limited so you’ll have to work relatively fast once it starts happening, but whether you’re an early riser or like to stay up late there’s a golden hour for you and there’s no reason for you not to take advantage of its advantages.


Here are the rules:

1. Entries can be emailed to Type in “Golden hour” in the subject line.

2. Photos have to be shot between July 7 and July 20. The subject is up to you but they must be shot during the “golden hour.”

3. Include your name (first and last), hometown, and the kind of camera/lens you used and where it was taken (eg: “John Doe, Stockton. Weber Avenue in downtown Stockton. Canon EOS Rebel Ti with 18-55mm lens”)

4. If there is a recognizable person in the photo, please identify them (name, age, hometown) and where they are and what they are doing. (eg: Jane Smith, 25, Tracy watches the sunset at Lodi Lake in Lodi)

5. Please feel free to include any interesting anecdotes or stories on how you took the picture.

6. The deadline for submission is Sunday, July 20. The top examples will be published on Monday, July 28 with an online gallery of all the photos on the same day.

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