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Basic Information: The Golden Hour of Photography & Histogram Comparison

July 21, 2010

Photographers often refer to both the hour after sunrise and the hour before sunset as “the golden hour”.  Working in a golden hour is considered to be one of the best times for taking a beautiful photograph.  The hue of the light is warmer and sometimes rosy.  The sun is low or near the horizon, so you capture more interesting cast shadows at dawn and dusk; if you were working at noon these shadows are lost.   The camera also captures richer, more saturated colors.  I conducted an experiment with a digital camera to illustrate this.

I have checked the RGB levels / channels histogram in Photoshop for digital photographs taken in the golden hour frame [at dawn] and the histogram is a lot different than it is for noon.  I photographed the same painting in the same location, then I did screen captures of the histogram in Photoshop to compare the differences and show them here.

A histogram just gives information, there is no “right and wrong” patterns to one; so in this case I am looking for a full, broad histogram that indicates a fuller range of colors and light being captured.  The hilly shapes indicate where and how much light, which we see as color, is captured.

Here is the full RGB [red, green and blue] color spectrum histogram for noon:

The empty space on the right of the shape shows where light / data is not being recorded.  Pretend the noon time sun is washing these colors out.

Here is the RGB histogram for the morning golden hour:

The more even distribution across the graph shows that different light / color information was captured, more of it in the lighter range, which is the right side of the histogram.  The left side are the darkest colors / shades.  This is a big difference in the histogram from the photograph shot at noon.  See the side by side comparison of the images:

Same camera, same place, same painting.  Even with the variable qualities of computer screens and monitors, there should be a noticeable difference between the photo on the left and the one on the right.  For me, the one on the right has warmer, richer color.

To learn more about histograms, using them on your camera when you are out photographing things and to see some great examples of them applied to photographs and side by side comparisons, check out this very nice article:

http://www.luminous-landscape.com/tutorials/understanding-series/understanding-histograms.shtml

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