Magic Hour Portrait Shoot
Project info

Above - Actress Juliette Goglia (Two and a Half Men, That's So Raven, CSI, Hannah Montana, The Michael J. Fox Show, and many more) on Thanksgiving Day (November 26th, 2015) during the start of "Magic Hour" in Santa, Barbara, CA.

MAGIC HOUR - Isn't really an hour - it's more like 30-45 minutes depending on if it is morning or evening - and depending on the time of year.

It refers to the time period JUST BEFORE SUNRISE and JUST AFTER SUNSET where there is still plenty of available light for photography, video, or motion picture film to be exposed, but the sun is below the horizon and therefore not a direct variable as a light source.

What makes it such an amazing time of day to shoot photos (or video, or motion picture film) is the mixture of qualities referred to as the VARIABLES OF LIGHT.


Intensity - The brightness of a light source
Quality - How hard or soft the light source is
Color - Hue, Value, & Saturation are variables of light color
Direction - Where the source originates
Shape - Pattern of the light.

Light from the Sun is typically INTENSE, HARD (SPECULAR), COOL, AND UNIFORM. Sunlight is HARSH. It creates sharp, deeply contrasted shadows, and it is honestly not an ideal light source for portrait photos; especially those of women.

Light from the Sun during magic hour is SOFT, WARM, and DIFFUSE. In other words for about 30-45 minutes a day light from the sun becomes the PERFECT warm, soft, diffuse source for shooting portraits. Soft light envelopes your subject and it creates very soft shadows. Soft light is often referred to as "GLAMOUR LIGHTING" for it is ideal for making skin look like alabaster... smooth, even, and beautiful.

Add that MAGIC HOUR is always accompanied by a shift in color in the sky (dark blue/black of night to the warm orange/yellow burst of sunrise/ the reddish/orange of sunset to the dark blue/black of night) and if you are in an open space (a field or on top of something tall like a hill or building - or a cliff as with the photos attached to this post), and you can add a natural splash of color to your photos.

What is important to know - a variable that rapidly changes during "MAGIC HOUR" - is color. In the morning the color shifts from cool to warm - in the evening it shifts from warm to cool.

You can take advantage of "ATMOSPHERIC PERSPECTIVE" - the principle that cool colors appear to recede and warm colors appear to stand out in photos - to make your main subject pop - using the warmth of the light present in MAGIC HOUR to give your subject a splash of color that will set them out from the background in the setting you choose to take your photos.

It was my luck that Juliette had wore a red dress for this photo shoot was completely unplanned; it was a wonderful accident where I just couldn't resist getting photos in this location with this amazing light. What made it great was having a really beautiful and sweet actress in attendance willing to humor me as I gave a live demonstration of what MAGIC HOUR was all about.

The shots attached to this post were taken over 5 minutes. I didn't use any bounce boards, alternative light sources (fixed or strobe) - what you see in these photos is 100% natural light.

To get photos using light with these qualities during any other time of day would be nearly impossible to accomplish. You could do it, but it'd take large silk blinds, filters, and at least 2 alternative light sources; it'd be better to just set it up inside a studio where you could better control the environment.

MAGIC HOUR is truly a magical time to shoot portraits. Remember to shoot them in the open; you need as much open space around you as you can get for as diffuse as MAGIC HOUR light is, it is not intense and it cannot cut through shadows and dark spaces like direct sunlight can.

Try shooting a portrait during MAGIC HOUR and see if you like the results. In my experience the images are very easy to work with. Try it and let me know how it goes!

Just make sure to remember that a good photographer ALWAYS protects their subjects or as it is said in Hollywood they always "protect the talent". This simply means you want to pose your model(s) in a way that augments their natural features.

Your job is to capture the essence of your subject faithfully, respectfully; so that they feel good about what you photograph.