MA GIC HOUR
When the sun is just below the horizon, the light is slightly more nuanced and surprising
When the sun sets in a clear sky, all the normal dynamics of light change. Gone are shadows and contrast, and the balance between the colour of the light on different sides of the sky suddenly becomes almost even. The result is a short period of time when the light is delicate and shifting. The same happens in reverse before sunrise, so you get two chances a day in good weather. The term comes from the movie industry, and the most famous film shot entirely during Magic Hour (incredibly expensive to do) was Terrence Malick’s Daysof
Heaven in 1978. It’s really worth watching that film to see how a great director of photography, Nestor Almendros, used it.
Depending on the latitude, you may not even have one hour, so it’s as well to work quickly and know what you’re looking for. Colour is Magic Hour’s strong suit, for the reason that there’s a subtle but insistent opposition between the warm hues in the direction of the sun and the bluish ones on the other side of the sky. Immediately after sunset, they become more matched in brightness, so that at some point you have two opposed soft light sources bathing a scene or subject from either side. Look for reflections – bodies of water work particularly well at Magic Hour.
The River Nile, just minutes after sunset. The still water reflects the warmer part of the sky, while the water ruffled by a breeze reflects the cooler colours from the opposite direction