Finding the Magic Hour

IMG_1992In the photography world, the magic hour (or golden hour) is when the first and last hour of sunlight of the day provides a high quality of light.  The image above was capture during one of my runs near the Venice Pier during this magic hour.  If a phone can capture this kind of image, imagine the quality a DLSR (aka real) camera can.

How is this? A post from Piziq by Damien Franco about Why Photographers Love Magic Hour explains,

Warm Light

The lighting provided by Magic Hour is warmer due to a milder version of the optical phenomenon known as Alpenglow. Basically, the earth’s own shadow casts a red band of back scattered light across the horizon.

Softer Light

Because the light is actually bending and bouncing all over the horizon it is indirect. As we all know, indirect light is also softer light.

Saturated Color

The warmth of the Magic Hour light also produces colors that are more saturated.

Shadow Play

The angle in which the sunlight hits objects plays a major role in how and where shadows occur. During Magic Hour you can find shadows are elongated and can add to the creativity and dimension of your landscape or street photography.


Taken on our last sunset in Hawaii, May 2012

With so many social media platforms based around images, it is hard not to want to take good pictures.  I began to discover the magic of lighting when vacationing last summer in Hawaii.  The image to the right was my favorite. offers some insight on how to shoot during the golden/magic hours:

1)    Check the times of sunrise or sunset in your local area

Don’t just assume. Also check the weather forecast. If it’s very cloudy or there’s a chance of rain, you won’t be able to see the golden hour.

2)    Arrive early
Getting there early means you won’t be rushed setting up your gear or adjusting camera settings.

3)    Turn off auto white balance 
Manually adjust the white balance to create the color mood you desire. Or, you can also experiment with the auto-presets such as ‘sunny’ or ‘daylight’.

4)    To light up your subject in the foreground 
Set EV (exposure value) to +1, +2 or +3.

5)   To create a shadow effect with your foreground subject
Set EV to -1, -2 or -3. You can also choose to make your shutter speed faster.

6)    Use a tripod

You would produce clearer images and capture more vibrant colors.

When utilizing all these tools as a professional, you get an image like the one below.  Captured by our wedding photographer Jason Q. Tran for our engagement session at the Santa Monica Pier.


So how do the rest of us make attempts for magical photos?  Luckily, camera phones continue to become better quality.  Lenses, coupled with some great apps, we get to experiment in our attempts.

Here are a few apps I would suggest you check out:


1. Magic Hour 

Magic Hour calculates when the next magic hour will occur based on your location and counts down to the start. Once you enter magic hour the countdown changes to a clock showing how much time remains for your shoot. You can also set an alert before magic hour occurs to help you get to your location in time.

On the left is the screenshot of when I capture the panoramic shot at the Venice Pier, speling out when the magic hour begins, ends, etc.  Pretty straight forward and FREE!

2. Magic Hour – Camera and Unlimited Filter 

We put the short moments of Magic Hour that make everything beautiful into our app.

Magic Hour: Better Than Hipstamatic? We Think So! —

Too busy during the magic hour?  Let this app do the work for you, at any time of day.  This app does set you back $1.99, but it is highly rated on itunes.

3..  Sun Scout

The screenshots show how Sun Scout turns your phone in to the most powerful and natural interface possible: a magic lens. Point it at the sky to understand where the sun will be, and when.

This last recommendation is the most technical and expensive.  At $9.99, it has a plethora of bells and whistles to keep someone intrigued.  However, make sure you will really use it.  We all know those apps we have purchased that sit in a buried folder on our phones.

No iphone, no problem.  Head to the website The Golden Hour to find out when you’ll be able to capture the highest quality images for today.

I encourage you to try it, you might be surprised what any camera will capture for you!

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