En Plein Air: The Golden Hour

En Plein Air: The Golden Hour

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One of the most beautiful times of day is that hour or so before sunset, when the sun is making its way down the sky and a warm, golden glow engulfs the landscape. Photographers refer to this time of day as the “Golden Hour” because the light is so diffuse and pure and the shadows so dramatic that a perfect shot is almost guaranteed.

Painters also love this time of day for the same reasons photographers do, although artists have the advantage of being able to perceive a far greater range of light and tone than a camera can. Although the light changes very rapidly during Golden Hour moments, it can still be a great time to be on location to observe and quickly paint the variations of color and value that are taking place as the sun shines its last light of the day. Some of the day’s most breathtaking visual effects take place during the Golden Hour, and depending on your location and latitude, the time of year, and the weather, Golden Hour moments can last anywhere from a few minutes to an hour or more. (Visit www.golden-hour.com for a visual explanation of how the Golden Hour changes depending on your location/latitude and the time of year.)

Golden Horizon
by Robert Wood, ca. 1952, oil, 30 x 40. Private collection.
A Golden Hour painting by the great American landscape painter Robert Wood.

The Golden Hour is officially the first and last hour of sunlight each day (when the sun is approximately 6 degrees above or 6 degrees below the horizon), so it occurs at both sunrise and sunset. The scientific explanation for the warm, light-filled glow present during Golden Hours is that when the sun is close to the horizon, its light has more atmosphere to travel through, which results in a greater display of its illumination back into the atmosphere and sky. The golden glow is due to blue light being dispersed and scattered as the sunlight moves closer to the earth. With the cool, blue light scattered, only the warmer, more reddish wavelengths remain.

Most plein air painters who paint during sunrise or sunset Golden Hours would advise you to premix your colors in anticipation of the effect you want to capture. It’s also a good idea to arrive on-site a good hour before the ideal Golden Hour moment to get yourself situated and properly set up to capture what could be only a momentary light effect. You may even want to scope out a particular spot without paints for a few days (at the same time, during the same weather) just to get an idea of what typically transpires in terms of light and shadow during that time.

For those of you attending American Artists Weekend With the Masters this September, or those of you from the Colorado area, you won’t want to miss our “Golden Hour” Sunrise Demo in Garden of the Gods Park. George Gallo—the writer/director of the movie Local Color and a professional painter—and California plein air painter Frank Serrano will be leading this demonstration that begins at 6 a.m and goes until 8:30 a.m. For more information and to sign up, visit www.aamastersweekend.com.

Watch the video: Plein Air Painting Demonstration: Late Light Oil Painting Sketches (May 2022).