Golden Hour Lessons

Cauldshiels Loch

ISO 160, 18mm, f/10, 1/100 sec

Once again I donned my backpack and went walking to practice golden hour photography. Walking is very low on the list of things I want to do after eating three plates of food – but this is the best time for outdoor shots so I forced myself out. After all, for the past 3 months in Scotland most evenings have been spent staring at a dark grey sky or at windows dripping rain (I like to think they’re Susan Boyle’s tears), so we have to make the most of it – and I need the practice!

Earlier in the week I’d gone on the other side of the valley at this time, only to be disappointed. For all my preparation, I hadn’t factored in the sun dipping behind hills on its descent and casting a huge, ominous shadow across half the valley. Proof you shouldn’t rely just on golden hour calculators, you need to figure out what the sun’s going to be hitting in its path when it’s so low!

“Hssssss” trans: “You’re cool”

Although I was just passing this scene to head further up the hill, the loch was so still that the reflections caught my eye. I had no interesting foreground, but then the swan family swam the whole loch to come and say hello (“hissssss”?). Swans aren’t known for their kind manners but even with a signet in tow they just doddled around nearby, didn’t hiss and my life didn’t become a low-budget Birds climax as I’d feared. I had to work very fast before A: I was attacked or B: they sodded off.

Rapidly setting up my tripod turned out to be a waste of time; it wouldn’t go low enough to get the foreground in. So I whipped the camera off and got some handheld shots before the swan decided I wasn’t a threat, or didn’t have any lovely bread – and swam away with its family. One of those unexpected but good photo moments.

The Scottish Borders

ISO 160, 45mm, F/11, 1/20 sec, Tripod

I charged up the hill with the light ticking away. Ultimately I got the kind of valley landscape I wanted and this starburst effect also appeared when I shot above f11. Some other things I learned:

  • Take a fleece – it gets cold quickly after the sun goes down up there!
  • Although in landscape photography I’d been told to use maximum aperture (f22), my f22 pics weren’t the sharpest. I researched this and apparently diffraction affects the image at this level, making it soft. Each lens has a sweet spot for sharpness and for mine it’s around f11 – even for large distances.
  • Don’t keep your mum hanging around in the twilight too long, she gets grumpy.
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