Monday, June 22, 2009

The Magic Hour

The first and last hour of the day provide a colour and quality of light which can often be dramatically different to the light during the rest of the day. It affects colour, tone and shapes in the landscape. Artists are often recommended to try and make the most of this lighting in their work.

The time of day when dusk and twilight approach is known by many as The Golden Hour or The Magic Hour. It's not an exact hour as such. How fast the light changes depends in part on the season of the year and the latitude you're at.

The Magic Hour
8" x 10", coloured pencils on Arches HP

copyright Katherine Tyrrell
Typically, lighting is softer (more diffuse) and warmer in hue, and shadows are longer. When the Sun is near the horizon, sunlight travels through more of the atmosphere, reducing its intensity, so that more of the illumination comes from the sky. More blue light is scattered, so that light from the Sun appears more reddish. And the Sun's small angle with the horizon produces longer shadows.

“Hour” is used here quite loosely. The character of the lighting is determined by the Sun's altitude, and the time for the Sun to move from the horizon to a specified altitude depends on a location's latitude and the time of year
Wikipedia - Golden hour
Find out where the Golden Hour is where you are

While researching this post I came across a website which actually allows you to calculate the magic hour anywhere in the world. The site is called The Golden Hour.

You can locate yourself anywhere in the world and it automatically calculates the transit of the sun through the sky and display it in the panel below the map. You can find out when the best times are to catch that special light at dawn and dusk as the sun rises and sets.

For example, I found the location for the above drawing - St James Park in London. Today, 22nd June 2009, if you hover your cursor over the gold coloured portion of the display of hours abox pops up which tells me that the Golden Hour starts at 7.28pm and continues until 9.09pm when measured at sea level. The angle of the sun at sunset is 311.1 degrees East of North (ie in the west!). What this means is that you can work out what time to be ready, how long you've got and where the sun will be setting.

That said, the light is still going to change very fast through the Golden Hour!

Twilight: Photography in the Magic Hour

I also came across an exhibition of photography done during the twilight hour on the website of the Victoria and Albert Museum - called Twilight: Photography in the Magic Hour.
It explores a time of day and a quality of light that presents technical challenges but also embodies a haunting mood and the possibility of narrative intrigue or psychological tension.

At twilight, the colour and quality of light go through rapid and dramatic changes. For photographers, who are highly attuned to the subtleties of light, this is a particularly significant and poignant time. The artists in the exhibition have all made work that focuses on the end of the day and investigates twilight, as distinct from night.
Twilight: Photography in the Magic Hour
You can see how photographers responded to the challenge in a photography competition which is now closed.

Annual Exhibition of the United Kingdom Coloured Pencil Society - deadline for entries: on 24th June

I think this is going to be a last minute entry for the UKCPS Annual Exhibition this year. I may write the reminders for the UKCPS blog of what you need to do (see FINAL REMINDER: 24th June - deadline for UKCPS exhibition entries) but that still doesn't stop me personally umming and aahing right up to the last minute as to what I'm going to submit.

This particular image has been 'calling' me to do it for ages so I started Friday night and finished this morning!

St James Park - Trees Study #3
8.5" x 11.5", coloured pencils in Daler Rowney Black Sketchbook
copyright Katherine Tyrrell

I first sketched this scene (see right) of the trees on the island in the middle of the lake in St James Park last year.

According to the data collected by my camera for one of the reference photos I used it was five minutes to six on 8th October.

I was sat in a deckchair on a grassy knoll just above the path which goes round the lake in St James Park. (It's a great place for sketchers due to the proliferation of free deck chairs - no need to bring a sketching stool!).

This particular golden luminous light probably lasted about 10-15 minutes in total at its most intense, although it had a lighter version just before and a softer more muted version just after. I was scribbling away like a maniac trying to get the intensity of the colours down before they went. This, of course is where coloured pencils are absolutely brilliant as sketching media as I can be getting colour down on paper within seconds of sitting down.

I think I'm beginning to detect a theme for this year which involves trees and water. You can see more of my drawings of trees and water in the galleries on my website. I couldn't decide which one this rawing belonged to do I popped it in both!


  1. Great topic with great observations, made visible in your pencil work. I`ll check out that online tool, usually I make notes at the beginning and the end on site to have a reference for later explorations.

  2. Thanks so much for the link to The Golden Hour. My current focus is on painting the magic hours and will use this to know exactly when that is in my area. Fascinating post!

  3. I checked out the Golden Hour link you provided -- what a great lot of information! And your drawing, The Magic Hour, must be a perfect illustration of the concept.

  4. Hi Katherine- great post! My work is very much based on a study of this subject. In fact, one of my online painting classes is called Painting the Magic Hours. Thanks for the link to this site!

  5. Thanks for this great post, Katherine! The drawing is excellent - a very good example of what you're talking about and I wish you all the best with its entry. The website is very good - I hadn't seen it before but again it makes me marvel for being so far north (well: I'll say the opposite on 20 December).

  6. Hi Katherine, your blog is so informative and thank you for taking the time to do all the research. I always learn something useful when I spend time on your blog.

  7. An enchanting post Katherine. The magic hour does indeed have unique and beautiful lighting, definitely a special time of the day. It is one of my favourite times for a walk. Thanks for the info and best wishes for your entry!


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