During the day, lighting conditions are usually pretty consistent. Sure, the Sun may hide behind a cloud for a minute or two, or a storm may roll in, but on most days, you’ll have pretty consistent light throughout the day (at least from the perspective of a landscape photographer).
But, that all changes during the golden hours–those precious moments of warm sunlight that occur around sunrise and sunset.
During these times, the quality of light constantly changes as the Sun rises or sets and the light scatters more through the atmosphere. Add some clouds in there, and you’ll see some really drastic changes–in minutes or seconds.
To illustrate just how drastic the light can change during a sunrise, here’s a photo I took at the Alabama Hills (Eastern Sierra, California), about 15 minutes before sunrise:
And, here’s the same scene about 15 minutes after sunrise:
On a cloudless morning, the dawn’s light is nothing too spectacular. But, when there’s a thin layer of cloud cover, the sunlight will reflect off these clouds and create some beautiful lighting conditions (like the purple tint in the first photo above).
Sometimes these conditions only last for a minute or two, so for landscape photography, timing is everything.
It’s impossible to predict when these precious conditions will occur (even having a weather forecast doesn’t help much), so that’s why you should arrive to a scene well before sunrise, and stay until well after. You’ll often be rewarded with some wonderful surprises 🙂
Oh, and don’t forget to take lots of photos too!
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About the Author: Steve Berardi is a naturalist, photographer, computer scientist, and founder of PhotoNaturalist. You can usually find him hiking in the San Gabriel Mountains or the Mojave Desert, both located in the beautiful state of California.