Golden Light Photography
Use the warm light of the “magic hours” to your advantage
ON THE MOVE
In order to be able to adapt to the quickly changing light of the setting sun, Stoecklein learns all the details that might influence the way he approaches a scene beforehand. He knows the exact time and position of the sunset. Light levels also are lower at this time of day, of course, which makes fast shutter speeds hard to achieve. This makes a tripod your best friend. Stoecklein's cameras are top-notch, so he's also able to bump his ISO up for faster exposures when he's going handheld.
White balance is an important consideration during this time of dramatic color shift, too. Many modern digital cameras have excellent automatic white balance, but the low-light levels make things a little tricky, so pay attention to resetting white balance as needed. For the best results, shoot in the RAW format so you can easily change white balance at a later time if you want.
Stoecklein finds that the easiest thing to control in golden-light portraiture is the subject, as people are easy to reposition when the light isn't. He'll often position subjects with the light behind them for his favored backlighting, and he'll keep shooting at different angles, because the subtlest movements can change the whole picture. The main thing, though, is that he likes to keep fluid, especially because the light in the golden hour is changing constantly.
"A lot of times, I have a sort of preconceived idea of what I'm going to do," he says, "and that's a great starting point, but then things just happen. When the light starts to get good, things happen that you never dreamed of. There are always little pieces of light dancing around, and you may see this little shadow that happens over here, or if you're working with people who walk a certain way, and the light strikes them in a certain way, you may try to push them or direct them back into those kinds of things. You really have to keep moving around to keep from getting stuck, and look for all those other great angles-the front light and the backlight, and all that kind of stuff."
RIDING INTO THE SUNSET
When asked if he has ever worried that his images will look too similar when he shoots so much in the same kind of golden light, Stoecklein laughs and says no. He says that even though the light is always good, it's never the same.
"For instance," he says, "I just did a shoot for Western Horseman magazine. I have this project I'm working on for them—cowboys moving some cattle from one pasture to another—and I was at my ranch, and I saw the moon come up. It was a full moon, and I went, oh, perfect! Tomorrow night is going to be the perfect night, because the moon is going to come up, and there's still going to be nice light. There's a point in the full-moon cycle when the moon comes up at exactly the same time as the sunset. I really wanted that blue, blue moon, and the cowboys in that beautiful, golden, ambient light. So then I got over there at about 7:30 p.m., and we picked the spot, and figured out where the moon would be coming up, and we started moving the cattle in that direction. And then we were able to get the moon coming up over the hills and the cattle. And it was just gorgeous."
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