Magic hour

The sunsets here in Arizona can be amazing. I often overhear people talking about the sunset the other night and how great it was, and it was pretty awesome. I’m not writing about sunsets though. What I find truly amazing is the time between the sun dropping below the horizon and total darkness. I have heard many names for this time of day, my favorite name for this time of day is “magic hour” I just think it fits.

Now the name can be a bit misleading as I have found “magic hour” does not last sixty minutes. In fact, it can vary on the season, atmospheric conditions and where on the planet you happen to be. Environmental conditions can play a role as well if there has been a dust storm or a wildfire in the general area as they can add particulate to the atmosphere which can act as airborne reflectors. The first time I realized this was back in May of 1980 a day or so after the eruption of Mount St. Hellens in Washington state. I was riding my bicycle out in the country west of River Falls Wisconsin when I witnessed one of the most spectacular sunsets and magic hours I think I have ever seen.

When we lived in Hawaii the “hour” was about the shortest I have witnessed. While in northern Minnesota some of the longest “hours” have occurred in the middle of the summer. Thus it has to do with your location on the planet.

By far my favorite location for “magic hour” has to be Arizona, especially if the sunset was spectacular and the presence of summer thunderheads. Monsoon season bring the ideal condition to capture the dramatic last light of the day. It can be, if mother nature has kept her best for very last as a way of ending the day with an outstanding statement.

One particular evening a few summers ago I was photographing Moran Point on the south rim of the Grand Canyon at sunset. I arrived early so that I could find my location and get set up. There were several hundred people there to watch the sun go down, almost everyone was facing west as the sun dropped below the horizon. I knew that my shot was looking east and I should get some very nice color, and I did. Soon after the sun disappeared, the crowd began to thin out quickly. Which only served to open up the landscape for more images. Forty-five minutes after sunset I had my camera aimed down the canyon to the west knowing that there would be some incredible tonal changes in the photos which would produce some beautiful B&W prints.