Hydra, HDR, iPhoneography

A sunset captured during the”magic hour”

Some many of the photos I take that people ‘oooh’ and ‘aaaah’ about are landscapes taken during ‘magic hour’ or ‘golden time’. It’s a time of day right around sunset or sunrise where the light is warm and the color scheme of the sky, people and landscapes can look their best. Hollywood Directors know this, and films like Days of Heaven and The Tree of Life, to name a couple, were shot almost completely at “Magic Hour.”

It’s surprising how many people miss this. I constantly hear from people that they want to get out and take their pictures at ‘high noon’, when from an artistic standpoint, that’s actually one of the worst times for taking pictures. Landscapes, even people pictures take on an a lovely glow when taken under the right lighting conditions.

Magic Hour varies depending on where you are on the earth, because the sun’s altitude changes, but a good rough rule of thumb is the good light is when the sun is between 6 degrees above and below the horizon. That applies to sunset or sunrise, and if the sun is actually above the horizon you’ll get some nice shadows if you want them.

Because your latitude makes a difference in calculating the time, we have some iOS apps to the rescue. One is really simple and basic, one is best for pro photographers, and the apps in the middle seems to be to be the best compromise between useful and not complicated.


Magic hour, Golden Hour, blue hour, iphone photography, sunset, iphoneography

Left: Magic Hour app. Right: Golden Hour

Magic Hour

Magic Hour is free and useful. The app checks your location, and tells you when the best lighting will occur around sunset or sunrise, when it will end, and give you a countdown clock until the next best lighting. I’ve used it when shooting outdoors, and it works well. The only drawback is it doesn’t work with any location other than where you are now. It would be so nice for planning a trip to enter location and get those best times before you go.

App Store link: Magic Hour – elfinda apps

Golden Hour

Another nicely done app, Golden Hour $1.99. It gives you the usual sunrise and sunset times, along with a handy map that shows the narrow bracket of the best lighting superimposed over a map. It also allows you to check the best times for any place on earth, so trip planning is covered. Finding locations is easy, with a large database of place names, or you can just use the map and zoom into where you want the calculations done.

App Store link: Golden Hour – Roger Moffatt

Magic hour, Golden Hour, blue hour, iphone photography, sunset, iphoneography

Left: Sun Scout app. Right: The Photographer’s Ephemeris

Sun Scout

I really like Sun Scout. Although it’s $9.99, this app is great for predicting where the sun will be at any time of day, and show you a graphic representing the sun over a live camera view. It’s perfect for figuring out when the sun will be behind a particular cliff or other landmark. The app uses your iPhone compass, GPS and gyros to get the sun position correct. In my use it’s always pretty close, given that the iPhone sensors are not military grade. Using your camera to accurately see where the sun will be is about the most useful form of display. The app is simple and direct. The one weakness is this app doesn’t allow you to select a specific location besides your own, other than the equator or the poles. It’s odd to not have the additional flexibility.

App Store link: Sun Scout – Benjohn Barnes

The Photographer’s Ephemeris

The Photographer’s Ephemeris is really powerful, showing you where the light from the son or moon will fall across your location, and it is not contained to where you are, but allows you to pick any out of the way spot you might be with your camera. This app gives you moon phases and expected illumination, topographical and terrain maps, shadow length adjusted for map scale, and of course older times and durations. You can also send your location to others via email. TPE, as it’s called, is quite scientific, and can even provide calculations for atmospheric refraction and elevations.

App Store link: The Photographer’s Ephemeris – Crookneck Consulting LLC

The Bottom Line

So there you have it. If you’re an iPhoneographer these apps will help you get the most out of your location by having you shoot at the best time. DSLR photographers will also love these apps to help them prepare for beautiful photos, and these apps are just another great reason to own an iPhone.

– Mel Martin


Magic Hour Gallery

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A gallery of iPhoneography taken during the golden hour or “magic hour.”

Do you want your photos to be considered for a future post or gallery on Life In LoFi? Upload them to LoFi’s Flickr Group.