Using “Golden Hour” in photography

Of all my photos of Taiwan, this photo of Taipei 101 taken from my apartment there has generated the most questions on photography:

1024-IMG_7047_6_8_Localtone

For those that recognize it, this is obviously using HDR, but even the unbracketed version of this photo is pretty special, thanks to capturing it during Golden Hour.

Not really an hour, but often thought of that way, Golden Hour is the time after sunrise or before sunset when the sun is less than 10° above the horizon. For mid-latitudes, this often maps to an hour. Ottawa in winter has a 90 minute golden hour, but in the Philippines, golden hour lasts only about 45 minutes. (in Achorage, Alaska in January, golden hour can last all day!)

If you are trying to plan your shooting to take advantage of golden hour, particularly when travelling, a great resource is http://www.golden-hour.com/. It will do its best to determine your location based upon your IP address, but you can also just center the map on your location by selecting the last entry (Map Centre) in the Location drop-down list.

The other key element is weather – who wants to get up for sunrise and find that you’re looking at a wall of gray clouds that gives only minimal flat light.  The best resource is to use is something called a Terminal Area Forecast. There is a Canadian version of the same page offered by NavCanada, but the US version covers both Canada and the US, and is a little easier to read.

Using this site is probably a post in itself, but here are a few hints if you consider yourself  tech savvy:

  • To use it, you will need to know the airport code for the nearest city with a weather office, use http://www.world-airport-codes.com if you don’t know your local code (Ottawa is YOW)
  • On the Terminal Area Forecast page, you need to enter that code in the box at the top right of the page in the “Area Forecast Product” section, but there is a twist. You need to add a “C” in front for Canadian sites, or a “K” for US sites.  (so you would use CYOW for Ottawa, KSFO for San Francisco)
  • Select the “Translated” radio button, then click “Get TAFs”

Here are the sample results for Ottawa, and for San Francisco for tomorrow morning. As you can see, Ottawa will be covered in fog, so there is no value in getting up. However, San Francisco is forecast for a remarkably clear day – but likely no clouds for interest in the sky. Possibly an ideal day for shooting, but not if you want to catch the Golden Gate bridge shrouded in fog.

Have fun!

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