Ask 100 photographers when to shoot and 99 of them will tell you the same thing: at sunrise or sunset. “But WHY?” you might ask and they’ll roll their eyes at your ignorance. “Because it’s the MAGIC HOUR… the time of day when the light is unequivocally, unquestionably, objectively BEST. Duh.”
And you know what? I get it. The idea that magic hour has the absolute best light of the day has been drilled into our heads so long as photographers that asking most shooters to shoot outside that time is like asking a fish to swim through the air.
Well, I am here to tell you that magic hour is overrated. I want to help you break the shackles of sunrise and sunset photography and show you that wonderful photographs can be taken around the clock.
Don’t get me wrong… shooting during magic hour can certainly lead to beautiful and engaging photos. I personally enjoy shooting then if conditions warrant. But one of the biggest problems with sunrise and sunset photography is that it always leads to the same look – a glowing, colorful sky sitting over some lovely landscape.
Why is this a problem? Because we’ve been tricked into overlooking the fact that, while the sky may be quite dynamic, the light on the landscape at this time of day is often flat, flat, flat, flat. Even using a graduated ND to equalize the exposure across the frame simply helps disguise the fact that the landscape is just sitting there in shadow while all the light is beaming through the sky. The more I look at magic hour photos from this perspective, the more they feel like each photo contains two separate halves instead of being one cohesive whole.
For me, this is the primary advantage of shooting outside of magic hour – it allows the light to interact with the landscape, creating a unique look and unified feel throughout the frame.
The following photo was taken around 11 am in some of the harshest, brightest light I’ve ever photographed. But using that to my advantage to backlight these cactuses helped me create an interesting exploration of shape and pattern.
Speaking of backlight, it’s some of the best light to make colorful foliage pop.
Midday shooting can also lead to incredible atmosphere if you have the right conditions.
Midday lighting can also bring out wonderful textures, such as those present in lenticular clouds or desert landscapes.
Don’t forget about rainbows or spotlighting either!
These are just a few examples grabbed from my portfolio to illustrate my point. Given time, I could show you a hundred more. The main thing they all have in common is that they were all shot well outside the magic hour.
So don’t be afraid to take the camera out whenever you see interesting light. And don’t feel guilty about missing a sunrise or sunset here and there. If you’re looking, you can find great conditions at all times of the day.