It’s Not Always About the Golden Hour

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Oxbow Bend, Grand Tetons, WY Canon 5DS R, 1/50 sec, f/14, 24 – 105mm @ 105mm, ISO 100

 

How often do we hear the mantra “It’s all about the Golden Hour” or another explaining how the “Blue Hour” is where the most beauty hides.  Others may insist that landscape photographers should best use the middle hours for scouting and taking combat naps to ready for the next golden hour.  While all these statement have some validity, I would posit that one can often lose out on some fabulous opportunities if you adhere to this guidance too literally.

Take for example the image above photographed at the iconic Oxbow Bend in the Grand Tetons National Park.  Every morning hordes of photographers, some of which have traveled from around the world, gather to photograph this location at first light.  And to be sure, this is an ideal time to catch some beautiful light slowly begin to paint Mount Moran and the fall colors along the Snake River.  After the morning show, many go on about their way to grab a shot at some other site on the way back to breakfast or their favorite Starbucks beverage in Jackson.  Maybe that is why when I arrived at this spot around 10 am there was hardly anyone around.  Seeing this I immediately pulled in my workshop group to take advantage of these near perfect conditions.  The clouds, the stillness of the air, and the beautiful light on the fall colors worked together to serve a perfect image well beyond the golden hour.  Certainly a little serendipity played a role, as within about 15 minutes of our arrival a breeze came up which created ripples on the river, completely eliminating the reflections.  The image opportunity was gone.

2016_09_tetons_0702-edit-copyAnother example is the Tetons and Golden Willows Image.  This again was taken during a period many photographers might be having lunch, photographed around 11:30 am.  Now to be fair, the overcast light does act as a diffuser and enables soft even light without harsh shadows you might otherwise have during this time of day.  Which brings up another point I make of exploiting these conditions to expand your shooting day.  No, you may not get that beautiful sunrise or sunset but I guarantee you will find many compositions that otherwise may have simply  not worked in other lighting conditions.

The Jenny Lake image was a long exposure taken a little later in the afternoon around 4pm.  Surely not the golden hour but it was late enough to be getting some depth creating shadows in the mountains.  I wanted something more than just an afternoon shot of the lake and mountains so I grabbed my trusty Lee Big Stopper 10 stop ND to create this 239 second exposure.  This created the motion in the clouds and also really smoothed out the lake to provide somewhat a semi-reflection of the mountain.  It also produced a sense of sereneness to the overall scene.

Jenny Lake, Grand Tetons National Park, Canon 5DS R, 239 sec, f/22, 24-105mm @ 24mm, ISO 100
Jenny Lake, Grand Tetons National Park, Canon 5DS R, 239 sec, f/22, 24-105mm @ 24mm, ISO 100

Again using the Lee Big Stopper, I went for a similar effect at String Lake.  This time the effect was slightly more subtle but still effective.  The image was taken at 1:30 pm and did necessitate some consideration of shadows for foreground elements.

 

 

String Lake, Grand Tetons National Park, Canon 5DS R, 350 sec, f/22, TS-E24mm
String Lake, Grand Tetons National Park, Canon 5DS R, 350 sec, f/22, TS-E24mm

 

 

Even with the bright afternoon light you can still get some interesting, story-telling images while otherwise on your midday scouting mission. The image, “Boots and Bones” offers an example. Taken at 12:40pm It could be argued that this images best works during this period, as it adds to a feeling of a desolate place and the harsh life of early ranchers of the area.

Boots and Bones, Grand Teton National Park, Canon 5DS R, 1/13 sec, f/16, 24-105mm @ 38mm, ISO 100
Boots and Bones, Grand Teton National Park, Canon 5DS R, 1/13 sec, f/16, 24-105mm @ 38mm, ISO 100

So, don’t sell yourself short by ignoring times other than the often mentioned “Golden or Blue” hour.  There are great opportunities throughout the day, not just the edge of day.

SIGN UP NOW FOR THE 2017 FALL COLORS WORKSHOP IN THE GRAND TETIONS, SEPTEMBER 21-25, 2017.  DETAILS HERE:  TETON WOKSHOP

 

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2 Comments on "It’s Not Always About the Golden Hour"

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Rich Lewis
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Great post Craig. You have definitely proven with these photos that we do not have tot limit ourselves to sunrise and sunset for our landscape photography. Your photograph of Jenny Lake is a beautiful solution to shooting during bright daylight. The surreal look from the long exposure makes this a unique image with a lot of visual interest and impact.

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