Chasing Golden Light

Throughout history it’s been called many names—the Golden Hour, the Magic Hour, or the Sweet Hour, just to name a few. No matter the term used to describe the enchanting effects of light just after the sunrises, and then again as the day gracefully fades into sunset, artists everywhere seek its majesty.

THE MYSTIC GLOW OF GOLDEN LIGHT

When the sun approaches the horizon and light must travel through more of the atmosphere, the magic appears—it scatters light’s blue spectrum, leaving dazzling, red and orange rays to illuminate the sky.

Willie Holdman Photographs by Willie Holdman
“I often find myself charging higher and higher up the Utah Wasatch Mountains chasing that light as it is unfolding, shooting as I ascend, literally chasing the light. I’d say about ninety percent of my photographs are taken during these ‘Golden Minutes’ as I like to call them,” describes Holdman. “The last light is always kissing the highest mountain peaks and desert plateaus, where I strive to be during the Golden Hour. Not only does this special time of day produce warm, rich hues of yellow and red, it also casts long shadows on the landscape. For me, it’s all about creating memorable experiences that feed the soul.”

NO TWO ARE THE SAME

Part of Golden Hour’s magic is that with all the variables involved—moisture in the air, pollution levels, particles in suspension and more —the same location produces different effects every day of the year.

Meyer Gallery by Frank Huff

Sunset Overthe City by Frank Huff, Meyer Gallery

Working on an awe-inspiring painting series of 365 sunsets, Huff certainly appreciates the variety Golden Hour provides Huff explains that our dry, crisp air offers an
enhanced fiery intensity as compared to climates he’s painted with higher levels of humidity. He typically paints a small study on location to truly capture the essence of the powerful color, then returns to his studio to create larger paintings. “The thing that’s so wonderful about this time, especially during sunset, is that everything becomes more intense.”

David Beavis Gallery by David Beavis

Lake House by David Beavis, David Beavis Gallery

“I travel the world to capture my images, but Zion is one of my favorite places to capture amazing pictures at the first and last light of the day. Th e light at this time provides not only a special warmth to the subject, but any shadows are far less harsh in the images. It’s also about the softness this light provides and its drama in the sky,” said Beavis. These images oft en have a captivating way of unifying a scene, seemingly erasing the separation of sky and earth altogether. Beavis’ image “Lake House” is an excellent example of this special effect and the beauty of transitioning light.

GOLDEN HOUR LIGHT ADDS DIMENSIONALITY

Since the sun is closer to the horizon, it produces more directional light due to its low angle, giving greater dimension to a scene.

Earthlight Galleries by Wayne Fox and Randy Collier

Tuscan Sunrise by Randy Collier (above), Symmetry by Wayne Fox (below), Earthlight Gallery

“One of the challenges all artists face is giving their two- dimensional surface a three-dimensional quality,” explains Fox. The type of light you see at the Golden Hour time of day is very soft , yet it offers so many interesting shapes and shadows, all helping the dimensionality aspect. Especially before sunrise, there’s also the element of peaceful solitude that most people don’t often experience. Th ere’s nothing quite like sitting on the side of a rocky shore waiting in the dark as the scene around you gradually gets lighter and more breathtaking.” Collier believes, “Even though it happens every day, watching the sun set is still a tender mercy.”

TRANSFORMING LAYERS OF GOLDEN LIGHT

The sun’s golden rays meet atmospheric particles before they reach us, such as dust and water droplets, all serving to filter the sunlight.

Prothro Gallery by Michaelle Peters

Layers of Zion by Michelle Peters, Protho Gallery

“What’s unique with the medium of encaustic is that you can represent sheer, translucent layers of color that become more and more luminous, much like the passing of time you see in a dazzling Golden Hour sky,” explains Peters. “It has the ability to create a landscape where light can transfer and pass through layers of wax to produce something you can’t get with straight pigment. It’s truly an exciting construction process involving a great deal of scraping, burning, melting and staining to produce the final image. What results is an opportunity to add atmosphere to the painting.” Representing the element of iron in Utah’s rocky landscape, Peters often uses rusted silk in her engaging encaustic paintings, mimicking both the beauty and red glow of our beloved rocks, as well as the effects of warm Golden Hour light.

THE DRAMA OF THE GOLDEN HOUR LIGHT

The concentration of direct light is reduced because of a greater depth of atmosphere, allowing more illumination from indirect light in the sky. Th is passionate light oft en performs in showstopper reds and oranges.

Lunds Fine Art Gallery by Allen Lund

Sunset by Allen Lund, Lund Fine Art Gallery

“It’s the type of light that heightens the beauty and drama of our inspiring Utah landscapes,” said Lund. Depending on the mood of the painting, Lund uses a more traditional oil approach with long, luscious strokes of vibrant paint, or a palette knife method that lends a more contemporary feel to his work. According to Lund, “The variety of my native Utah has provided a nonstop source of inspiration over the years.” He often paints around the Great Salt Lake, never failing to offer fantastic fiery red and orange sunsets that have become the favorites of many of his collectors.’

Bret Webster Images by Bret Webster

Toroweap and Vulcans Throne Alight by Bret Webster, Bret Webster Images

“The color of sunlight shift s as it travels through all that atmosphere at a low angle. In the shot of the Grand Canyon, the sun is setting and it is backlighting the falling monsoon rains, as well as illuminating the clouds to make the world astonishingly orange and yellow,” describes Webster. He demonstrates a beautiful example of how Golden Hour light can add even more drama to a changing sky, “I had attached a lightning trigger to my camera to try and capture a lightning bolt if it happened. It did and with just the result I was looking for.”

BE CAREFUL NOT TO BLINK

The name, Golden Hour, can be misleading because it’s often reduced to a precious few minutes. Its duration depends on the latitude, season and weather conditions of its location.

Gallery MAR by Warren Neary

Dawn’s Harmony by Warren Neary, Gallery MAR

“As an artist, I’m drawn to the Golden Hour for the theatrical stage it creates for warm and cool color, decreasing value contrast, varied lighting and long shadows providing interesting design patterns or back lighting.  However there is very little control with Mother Nature, and I’ve got to go with what she gives me. Sometimes it is a surprise too, when on a mostly overcast day, the sun peaks through just before retiring or rising and envelops everything in a rich display of color just before ducking behind clouds or mountain horizon.  Everything is transformed in a fleeting moment with wonderful color. The effects of this time of day are fleeting like the childhood days of summer. The foothill and valley floor vistas are some of my favorite vantage points…well worth the effort for the show.” 

Thomas Anthony Gallery by Tom Betts

Shifting Light and Flowers by Tom Betts, Thomas Anthony Gallery

With a dreamlike quality of soft , touchable light, Betts creates hyperrealistic paintings that seem to invite viewers into a mysterious, yet soothing atmosphere. “Light in my work is meant to seem transitory like a story that takes a few moments to tell the fades into the memory,” describes Betts.

“Watching these tales of light flicker and come together to build something so beautiful and subtle is the reason I paint. Here in Laguna Beach, where the golden sunlight dances off the ocean, I see its lively song slip into moonlight where it is stored in a dream. I paint all through the night to capture those memories and cultural nuances. The sunrise will tell me if I’ve done my job well.”