I've never intentionally shot during a so-called "magic hour" before. Timing takes intentionality and I'm only recently realizing how to place intentionality into my photography.
They are, however, just as glorious as everyone says. Low angle light refracted through the clouds turns unbelievable shades of pink, orange, and brilliant red. Minutes later they settle down and the clouds take an unsettlingly rich shade of blue.
Atop a hill like I was these shots also exhibit obscene dynamic range as dark shadows shoot out and are juxtaposed with brilliant sunset illumination. HDR shots from a tripod can capture this, but I'm scared of shots like this. I don't trust my skill in rendering HDR shots without making them look outrageous, compressed, unreal. For this shot, I embraced that feeling a bit and colored the image impressionistically. These clouds really were some weird shade of cyan and these New England roofs shining in gold—but I might admit that these shades didn't exactly occur at the same time.
Even without the outrageous sky, the sunset was perfect. The gold and pink light accentuates the changing leaves and creates a still unreal palette.
I wrote recently that I'm not comfortable with color photography—and I'm not! Color elements still feel complex and prone to failure. To make a photograph using them is riskier and I feel clumsy trying.
But you make your photography out of the elements in front of you, and during the golden and blue hours this raw material is undeniable. It ends up feeling more like free candy than photo-making.
While everyone knows that the "magic hours" are short-lived, what's a little less clear is that they are incredibly dynamic. Every few minutes the lighting changed completely and the same shots both required new technique and took on a totally new look. It doesn't require exactly frantic work, but you can't call any angle "done" until darkness truly sets in.
One thing I was fortunate to have guessed to bring was some flash equipment. To be honest, I didn't have too many great ideas for how to use it, but it's also clear that to get the most out of a scene in the later parts as the sun truly sets and the blues set in you probably want to be able to control the light a little. The potential here is great. The richness of the skies has already created an unnatural scene and by controlling the fill and subject lights more you can easily follow out hundreds of creative interpretations of the scene.
Well, at least in theory. In practice, by the time you've set up your tripod the light will already be shifting to the next note and you'll be lucky to sneak in the shot you want before it's too late.