The Magic Hour

As we approach the shortest day, this is the ideal time of year to make the most of the magic hour. There are many exciting photo opportunities.

You’ll find everything from lingering autumn colours to the magic of first frosts and the ethereal beauty of a misty woodland.

Landscape, © Julian Love 2012, Canon EOS-1D X
Landscape, © Julian Love 2012, Canon EOS-1D X

The magic hour can help enhance the beauty of stunning landscapes

Photographers often talk about the magic hour, that special time just after sunrise or just before sunset, when two things happen to the sun’s light:

  • It has a special red or golden warmth.
  • Its low angle emphasises forms and textures in the landscape.

However, the magic hour isn’t fixed at sixty minutes. It actually gets longer as the days overall get shorter. This is one reason why winter is many photographers’ favourite time. In mid-winter it almost feels as if the magic hour lasts all day.

Enchanted landscapes

  • Don’t just shoot with the sun behind you. You’ll get that rich golden light, but without shadows to give shape and contrast, images may look a bit flat and one-dimensional. Don’t be afraid to shoot at every angle, even straight into the light. It can’t hurt the camera.
  • Magic hours may last longer in winter, but it still pays to start early. In winter this may mean 8am or 9am, rather than 3am or 4am at other times of year. Mist and frost may disappear rapidly as the sun comes up.
  • Don’t stop shooting the moment the sun disappears below the horizon. It may have gone where you are, but may still be lighting up higher clouds. The best ‘sunset’ shots can happen well after sunset.

Sunset in Bordeaux, © Brent Stirton 2011 of Getty Images. Canon Ambassador, Canon EOS 5D Sunset in Bordeaux, © Brent Stirton 2011 of Getty Images. Canon Ambassador, Canon EOS 5D

The sunlight is rich and golden while the shadows are long

Power to your next step

Hints and tips for SLR users

Canon DSLRs give excellent image quality at high ISO ratings. Coupled with Image Stabilizer (IS) technology, this means you can keep taking handheld shots in pretty low light. However, there are definitely times when it pays to use a tripod or some other solid camera support.

  • Image quality at high ISO settings may be good, but at low ISOs it can be even better, and a tripod gives you that choice.

A black-tailed Godwit (Limosa limosa) at sunset, © Brutus Östling 2013. Canon Ambassador, Canon EOS-1D X
A Black-tailed Godwit (Limosa limosa) at sunset, © Brutus Östling 2013. Canon Ambassador, Canon EOS-1D X

Hints and tips for compact camera users

  • Many of Canon’s PowerShot cameras, and some of the IXUS models feature the HS System (High Sensitivity). This makes them especially suited to capturing great shots in low light and higher ISO settings.
  • Most Canon compact cameras also include advanced intelligent Image Stabilizer (IS) which automatically adjusts the lens mechanism to handle different types of hand shake. This is vital when shooting in low light.
  • The majority of PowerShot cameras have levels of control similar to DSLRs. Try experimenting with longer shutter speeds (Tv mode), wider aperture (Av mode) to take full advantage of the magic hour.

Sunset in Iceland © Thorsten Milse 2012. Canon Ambassador, Canon EOS 6D
Sunset in Iceland © Thorsten Milse, 2012. Canon Ambassador, Canon EOS 6D

It pays to get out on frosty mornings – but dress warmly

Hints and tips for printers

  • Many Canon cameras and printers can communicate directly over WiFi, meaning that shots can be printed and shared as soon as they’re taken. These prints could even turn into great little gifts for party guests. No matter where your family and friends are, you can share your photos and movies instantly through social networks like Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. Canon’s advanced printing technology enables you to print your photos anywhere in the world in minutes.
  • With Christmas on the horizon, think about other ways you can use your printer to create personalised gifts. Try the Canon T-Shirt transfer paper, for example. Canon’s My Image Garden software can help you turn your photos into seasonal calendars or Christmas cards.