Chasing the Golden Hour

Fiery sunset in Williamsburg this weekend.

Memorial Day has passed and now summer is finally in full swing in New York City. After several cold and dark months of winter, we finally can bask in the longer and warmer days of summer. Just having the few extra hours of daylight in the evening makes all the difference as New Yorkers romp around the city taking it all in. After taking advantage of the day’s pleasant weather and the activities that result from it, we are often treated by my favorite summer phenomenon, the golden hour. Also known as the magic hour, the golden hour is defined as the time shortly after sunrise or before sunset where the sun is low in the sky and emits a lovely golden light that makes everything look impossibly gorgeous. Unsurprisingly, the golden hour is a brief moment in time most sought after by photographers due to the ethereal quality of light it produces. Aside from desirable photographic quality, I’ve noticed a calmness and camaraderie between people during this time. Time slows down as we watch the daylight slowly fade away which allows us to be present in the moment and also to reflect on the day we experienced.

How it Works


Color temperature spectrum in Kelvin. Source.


The golden hour occurs when the sun is just above the horizon. Due to the low angle, the sun’s rays must travel through more of the Earth’s atmosphere before it reaches our eye. Throughout the atmosphere, the sun’s rays encounter atmospheric particles like water droplets and dust which diffuses the light’s intensity, reducing contrast and softening contours. Furthermore, the light’s journey through the thick atmosphere scatters the blue and violet wavelengths allowing more orange and red color spectrum to reach the earth. This results in a golden or reddish hue of light during the magic hour. (source)

Why We Like it


There’s no question about the distinct color that is produced during the golden hour. Warm colors are known to evoke certain emotions. Red can have an energetic and passionate connotation. Yellow and orange also have energetic undertones while also drawing out a cheerful energy. Pink can often make an appearance during golden hour and arouse a euphoric and refreshing emotion. (source)     

Diffused Light.


As the sun’s rays travel through the atmosphere, the various particulates in the air create a very soft glow that is naturally produced during this time. Edges are softened and overall contrast is decreased, creating an ethereal aura. Overall, the light is more even which proves to be a favorable light for photographing objects, landscapes, and people. 

 Directional Drama.

As the sun’s angle gets lower and lower, shadows get longer and the appearance of direction is more apparent. Sharp and long shadows make the objects look larger than they are, creating drama from the mundane.  (source)

 Psychology & Symbolism

Golden hour by definition symbolizes the passage of time. During sunrise and sunset, we are reminded of the eternal cycle of light. The cycle is constant and larger than humanity as a whole. The golden hour serves as a memorial of the inherent cycles in nature: sunrise and sunset, day and night, life and death. (source)

 Community & Quality Time

Rooftops are coveted in NYC during golden hour.

Golden hour can also serve as a moment of pause where we can all stop and watch. It’s an event that you go out of your way to watch in the perfect setting, usually with good friends and good drinks. It’s an equal opportunity, fleeting moment where all can get together and enjoy it while you can.

Katy Marino, Associate AIA

Katy Marino, Associate AIA