If you want awesome landscape images then you MUST shoot in the golden hour. It is without doubt the best time to be out and about with your camera. The light is golden, warm and caresses the landscape. There is no point in getting your camera out of your bag at any other time of the day.....as the light will be too harsh and your images will be awful. Well thats what I thought for years....madness. Ok there is a degree of truth as golden hour is definitely the optimum time to be out with your camera. Big but time...but that's not to say that we can't get great conditions and images outside of these times. When I was starting out I rarely took images outside of golden hour. I was heavily influenced by what the experts told me. In fact I was even known to pack my gear up as soon as golden hour had finished and head off down the fell before you could say 'harsh light'. I know that sounds stupid and it really was. Yes I was taking it to the extremes but thats all I was hearing...only golden hour will do. After a while it became apparent that I was vastly reducing my time out with the camera and potentially missing out on great conditions because of my golden hour snobbery. Now I'm pleased to say I've jettisoned this ridiculous approach, so much so I've taken some of my favourite images outside of golden hour. So in this little blog I'm going to talk about why I shoot outside of golden hour, how I approach it and what I look for.
Great Gable Moods - An image taken in the height of summer around 4-5 hours after sunrise. The cloud really helped to diffuse the light and add atmosphere to the image.
Why I shoot outside of golden hour?
The biggest reason I shoot outside of golden hour is because I absolutely love using my camera and I want to maximise my time out with it. Who in their right mind would want to limit the time of something they love doing? I know I don’t. I work full time, have a young family and I'm not always blessed with bags of time on my hands. I have to juggle my time out with the camera to incorporate work and family. So if I do have a spare 5 minutes to go out with the camera, I need to be grabbing the opportunity with both hands regardless of the time of day. Granted I’m not guaranteed to get an image and sometimes the camera doesn't even come out of the bag but at least I have it with me if the opportunity arises. If you don’t try you will never know. At the very least I've been out and enjoyed the outdoors and I may just find something to go back and shoot another time.
The Borrowdale Golden Tree - Taken at midday, after a wet morning the sun came out and produced some epic light on the Autumnal colours on the tree.
Good Light is good light:
Ok, on paper golden hour is definitely the optimum time to take photographs, we've already established that. However that’s not to say we can’t and don’t get good light at other times of the day. Just because the light isn’t the magic golden light all photographers crave doesn’t mean it’s not beautiful in its own right. I like to trust my eye and not so much what the experts are telling me these days. If a scene looks appealing to me and the light looks nice then I’m going to take the shot regardless of the time of day. As I always say…if something catches your eye it’s always worth investigating further. I think we need to get out of the mindset that only golden hour will do, we need to trust our instincts and judge every situation on its own merits regardless of time of the day. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t but that’s just the make up of photography in general. You really have nothing to lose and everything to gain.
Oxen Fell - Autumnal moods - taken around 1pm on a lovely afternoon hike up Oxen fell. The passing rain showers helped to create fantastic mood and splashes of lovely light.
Tis the season to be snappy:
In the Autumn and Winter months there is little doubt that the light is going to be less harsh than say in the summer. The reason being is that the sun doesn’t get as high in the sky and as a result the low angle of the sun will make for more pleasing softer shadows and light. This also means we can get warmer light for longer as the magic hours are extended due to the low angle of the sun. This type of light can really transform images and give the landscape a 3d look. I also find that in these months the general landscape has a wider and warmer colour palette which lends itself better for photography than in the summer months, when we have 50 shades of green. I also find that the air clarity is better in these months as well and we don't have the usual summer haze to contend with. I believe the combination of these factors can give us better conditions to work with and a higher success rate all day long.
Utilise the weather:
Weather of course plays a huge roll in photography. When we choose a day for going out at sunrise/sunset for instance we always look at the weather and opt for the better day..right? Well this should be no different when shooting in the daytime. We need to choose carefully. For example I’m less likely to go out on a clear sunny day in the summer months opposed to one with more cloud cover and potentially more interest. I scan the weather apps obsessively and look for days with various conditions which are likely to yield better results. I love days with sun and cloud, fog and mist, rain and sun etc. As the sun gets harsher in the day, we want to use the weather that diffuses the sun and makes it softer and easier to work with. All the conditions I’ve mentioned can act as a natural diffuser or produce dramatic light or atmosphere, which is so very important in making striking images.
Rydal water Lone Tree - Mist and fog really helps to create atmosphere and you can shoot for hours in these conditions
Allow yourself that little more time:
As a rule, I will always try to be on location a good hour before sunrise and stay for at least two hours after as a bare minimum. This way I’m getting a good 3 hours to work with. If I have more time then even better. Allowing ourselves that little more time with greatly increase our chances of success. Often photography is a waiting game and we don’t always get the light we want straight away. So by being patient and not packing up and going home, we have more chance of grabbing that image. Having some light its better than no light because we scurried off home to quickly. Having more time can also take the pressure off, as sunrise can usually be a mad dash. So having more time can help to refine our images and work on compositions.
Go Black and white:
If your shooting in bright sunshine with lot of contrast then these conditions are perfect for striking B&W images. Great B&W photos are the ones which have that lovely play off between the dark and the light. I find this perfect for when your up in the mountains with the long lens and you can pick out moments of fleeting light on gloomy days. Converting the images also helps if you aren’t presented with a less than interesting colour palette, like in the summer months when we are presented with haze, flat colours or the dreaded deep greens.
Bow Fell and Crinkle Crags B&W - An image take a couple of hours before sunset in the summer, very hazy day and quite flat colours but converting to black and white and playing with the contrast, shadows and highlights in Lightroom really help to make an impactful image.
Shoot in RAW and get creative in the editing suite:
The advancement in editing software allows us to be a little bit more creative with our images if we don't quite get the conditions we want. We have the ability to play with the differing tones, convert to B&W, reduce saturation, play with shadows and highlights and essentially mold them in anyway we see fit. Yes we still need to produce a good image to start with, but utilising your editing skills can certainly help to produce the images you want and more visually appealing to view. Editing is an extension of the creative process and there is nothing wrong with tweaking your images to achieve your vision.
The Head of Great Langdale - An image taken on a family walk, shot around lunch time.
Really its all about being open minded and enjoy your photography whatever the time of the day you are out. I think we can get too hung up on doing what the so called experts tell us. We just need to trust our instincts and take that shot if looks good. Dismissing certain conditions can be a mistake and I'd rather have my camera with me at all times, whether it be on a family walk or just out and about, than not having it and potentially missing out. We really have nothing to lose with this approach. I see it this way, if I'm out and see something that catches my eye and I haven't brought my camera then I'm going to be really disappointed, more so that taking my camera and getting absolutely nothing. Yes choose your times wisely but never dismiss daytime shooting and embrace that so called harsh light.