For portraits, the warmth, depth, texture, form, contrast, and color in photographs are dramatically affected by the angle of sunlight. When the sun is low on the horizon in the early morning or late afternoon, I’m provided with a diffused light that’s often gold or orange in hue and is typically ideal for portrait and outdoor event photography. Since the sun is in this position for only a short period of time, photographers call these two times of day–near sunrise and sunset–the “magic hour.”
In the morning hours, as the sun begins to climb across the sky, the sun becomes a harsh light source–and harsh light sources generally aren’t very complementary for most photography. This “hard” light can cause deep, dark, and distinct shadows on your facial features and underneath your eyes. Although problems with that harsh light can sometimes be addressed using open shade or flash photography, those techniques don’t create the same kind of pleasing effects you’ll see when I’m using natural warm natural sunlight present only during the magic hour.
The sunrise magic hour generally begins fifteen minute to thirty minutes after sunrise while the sunset magic hour usually ends about fifteen minutes before sunset. In both cases, the “magic hour” only lasts thirty to forty-five minutes. Because of this limited timeframe, it’s helpful to stay on schedule to take best advantage of the light. Generally speaking, the farther away you move from the magic hour, the less complementary the light becomes for photography.
If you’re interested in spectacular sunset skies in your photos, you’ll find that the sunrise / sunset “effect” you probably want typically appears ten minutes before the published sunrise time and ten minutes after the published sunset time. However, if there are no clouds or dissipating marine layer, sunrise and sunset skies in Los Angeles are often brief and unspectacular.
Another weather-related condition that affects photography is seen on days with overcast conditions. With overcast skies or fog, sunlight is highly diffused. And diffused light is often excellent for photographers. Although the sky may not be particularly interesting, the evenly diffused light is extremely complementary to most subjects.
As a closing comment, I want to mention that I realize important events can’t always be scheduled around the “magic hour.” As a professional photographer, I’m expert in the various techniques needed to mitigate issues related to harsh lighting conditions. However, when possible, I do recommend that you take the “magic hour” into consideration when scheduling your events and portrait sessions.
If you’d like to use this information on your own web site, please place the following statement and link (URL) wherever you use this text: “This information was provided by Los Angeles wedding photographer Rob Greer (http://www.robgreerweddings.com).” Thanks a bunch!