Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Golden, Magic, or Blue Hour--Free Every Day

Photographers call it the golden hour whereas cinematographers call it the magic hour. Both agree that it occurs in that period shortly after sunrise or before sunset. Daylight is redder and softer compared to when the sun is higher in the sky. They get their best results then. Film director Terrence Malick, known for his painterly style, likes to shoot his movies during those periods because it so changes the mood and look. He calls it the blue hour.
Malick could only get the below shot for his film Tree of Life by using blue hour light. We know it is the blue hour because of how low the sun is, only as high as the human hand stretched forward.

Paul Cezanne's still lifes were painted in this light as well. Even though this is indoors, the light from the window is magic hour light.

In fact, across the entire spectrum of the arts and letters, there is use of this special period of light which occurs twice a day around sunrise and sunset. And the symbolism is pretty obvious too. This period is birth at one end and death at the other.
If there is a time I am going to be outdoors on any given day, I try and make it this time. Although I am up fairly early each day, I am not much on going out then so I gravitate towards that period at the end of the day instead. Magic hour makes me feel more alive than at any other time of the day yet I also sense the fleeting nature of time and especially my time. 

I have been swimming most days this summer during magic hour. Today, because there is a swim meet at 5pm, I had to change the time of my swim to 11am. I still enjoyed my swim but the ambience sure was different. I missed that light on me as I was moving through the water. The sun has also lost a lot of its punch by magic hour and so you don't feel the heat the way you do earlier. 

If you have not been doing anything during magic hour, try taking your camera with you one evening on a short hike. You will enjoy the results.
If this is all too ephemeral for you and you are the type of person who needs a practical payoff in trying something new, magic hour does not disappoint! I have a practical application for you of this principle which will make you the toast of your next birthday party (or your grandchild's). If you have always wanted a silhouette image, below, but didn't know how to take one with your camera, all you need is your camera, your subject and the blue or magic hour. Then shoot your camera straight into the sun with the subject's back or side to the sun. You've got your silhouette. This will not work at other times of the day or it won't work well. You want that subject absolutely black and this is the time you need for that. The camera on your phone will take the shot just fine.

You can have such fun doing these. If you have an image editing program, you can select the black of the animal and then paste another image into that black. Thus, I selected the black on the above image and then copied the below image to paste into it. So first is the copy image, below:

I then paste it into the black animal and here is the result:

This is an enormously popular thing to do with small children (of them and their pets) and at small children's parties. And this is just one thing this marvelous light makes possible.

Below are the two key steps used in an image editing program:

after these two commands, the one image goes inside the other image:

If this interests you, I found a website online which has a tutorial on taking these kinds of pictures with an iphone.  I am sure the general principles apply to all of these camera and tablet phones since they universally apply to all cameras. Go here to learn more.

Also, I found some tutorials for copy and paste into. Gimp and Photoshop both do this technique in exactly the same way. Gimp is free whereas Photoshop is not.
tutorial at photoshop essentials
tutorial at essential-photoshop-elements

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