Golden Light Photography
Use the warm light of the “magic hours” to your advantage
The magic hours—the hours immediately after sunrise and just before sunset—are times of amazing light for photography. The time is brief, but the great thing is that twice a day, every day, there's a generous helping of breathtaking ambient light that's complemented by the dramatic backgrounds and mood of the rising and setting sun. Colors and hues are especially beautiful at these times and, in the evening, there's a particularly warm cast to the ambient light. Western photographer David Stoecklein is a master of corralling this particular light, and he uses it to its full potential in his portraiture.
"I think, first of all, it has to do with the overall feeling of warmth," says Stoecklein of the appeal of magic-hour light in images. "It's kind of a sensual thing. Colors evoke a particular mood or feeling in the viewer, so if you're looking at cold, blue things, you get sort of a cold, blue feeling. And when you're looking at warmer tones, you get more of—excuse the expression—a fuzzy feeling."
HOW TO SHOOT
Stoecklein is a big fan of photographing his subjects in the warm light at the end of the day. Rarely does he use anything but natural lighting, so he has become an expert at harnessing the resources available to him. His number-one advice is to constantly switch through a variety of angles and lighting conditions.
His favorite is backlighting, which he finds works exceptionally well in golden light. By positioning the sun behind a subject and backlighting him or her, you avoid a lot of the strong shadows of direct lighting. Maybe even more importantly, the unique characteristics of backlighting masks and softens imperfections in the faces of subjects. Another favorite is rim lighting, using the light from the side, which falls along the edges of a subject and highlights him or her. This adds an extra visual impact to the subject and heightens the sense of separation of the subject from the background, creating depth.
Sharpness is just as important to Stoecklein, so he almost always shoots at a shutter speed of 1⁄500 sec. He uses large apertures to achieve such a fast shutter speed, usually shooting around ƒ/3.5 to ƒ/4.0 during the evening magic hour. Most importantly, he brackets his exposures as much as possible.
"You have a really cool tool in your camera," he says. "It's bracketing. You can bracket all the way from ƒ/2.8 to ƒ/11 at 500, and by doing so, you may get eight different pictures, all of which are beautiful or usable. You may get a complete silhouette, a real edgy picture, or you can get where you can see all the way into their blue eyes, depending on what you want."