Does it really matter that much what time of day you take a landscape photo? I thought of this quite a bit while out hiking Friday afternoon. There was an old dried out tree branch that I have photographed before in the tall grass and there was a nice breeze as well, so I took a few long exposures. I got a lot of the motion blur in the grass that I wanted and then I looked at where the sun was and figured I better check this spot again in about an hour to see what the grass looks like in the yellower light just before sunset. The image below is taken at 5:34PM, about an hour and 8 minutes before sunset.
I hiked around the trails for a while, looking for any wildflowers that were early, but I came up empty. I eventually returned to the same spot and the sun was now much lower in the sky. It was very clear so there were no clouds to block my light. So I set up a similar shot to the first and waited on some nice gusts of wind to blur the grass. Below is an image taken at 6:30PM, about 12 minutes before sunset.
Both of the photos above were taken with the same ND filter. And in each photo I set the white balance using the gray stones in the foreground. I don’t know about you, but I greatly prefer the second photo close to sunset in which the golden sunlight colors the grass so nicely.
So, this is the reason that photographers call this the golden hour. As the sun approaches the horizon, the light passes through more atmosphere before it gets to you and this scatters more of the blueish colors out of the light resulting in light that is much warmer than it is at noon when it is almost white. The golden sunlight at this time of day can make the ordinary look beautiful. So coming back to a scene in better light can make for a much better photo. This works on people too.
As to the subject matter, I see that tree branch every time I hike this trail and feel like I should photograph it. I don’t know if it is all that photogenic, but I like the old weathered thing for some reason. And I think that the blurred golden grass is a good backdrop for it with the hard texture of the wood against the motion blurred grass. It’ll be gone with the next burn, so it will at least live on in a photo or two on the internet for a while.
The photo below looks in the opposite direction. You can see that the long grass extends all along the top of the ridge. It is burned periodically to keep it from getting overgrown with cedar, so they can maintain the natural habitat of the black-capped vireo, a small songbird that the refuge is here for. This bird was listed as endangered at one time but has made a recovery and is now just “near threatened”, which is a big improvement.
I hope you enjoyed these golden hour photos from my hike. Tell me what you think in the comments below.