Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

The golden hour

with 60 comments

Nature photographers use the term “the golden hour” to refer to the first hour after sunrise and the last before sunset, in both of which the low sun casts a warm light. It was in the latter of those golden hours on November 16th that I rounded a curve on Rain Creek Parkway and noticed a great egret (Ardea alba) in the creek that flows through the golf course there. I pulled over, put on a long lens, and got off just a couple of shots before the egret took flight. Not having time to focus properly, I took four more pictures in quick succession. The one shown here was the best of the lot because it kept the center of the bird in focus from its tail to its head.

And how about the light in that golden hour? The phrase reminds me now of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem “The Children’s Hour”:

Between the dark and the daylight,
      When the night is beginning to lower,
Comes a pause in the day’s occupations,
      That is known as the Children’s Hour.

I hear in the chamber above me
      The patter of little feet,
The sound of a door that is opened,
      And voices soft and sweet.

From my study I see in the lamplight,
      Descending the broad hall stair,
Grave Alice, and laughing Allegra,
      And Edith with golden hair.

A whisper, and then a silence:
      Yet I know by their merry eyes
They are plotting and planning together
      To take me by surprise.

A sudden rush from the stairway,
      A sudden raid from the hall!
By three doors left unguarded
      They enter my castle wall!

They climb up into my turret
      O’er the arms and back of my chair;
If I try to escape, they surround me;
      They seem to be everywhere.

They almost devour me with kisses,
      Their arms about me entwine,
Till I think of the Bishop of Bingen
      In his Mouse-Tower on the Rhine!

Do you think, O blue-eyed banditti,
      Because you have scaled the wall,
Such an old mustache as I am
      Is not a match for you all!

I have you fast in my fortress,
      And will not let you depart,
But put you down into the dungeon
      In the round-tower of my heart.

And there will I keep you forever,
      Yes, forever and a day,
Till the walls shall crumble to ruin,
      And moulder in dust away!

(Alice, Allegra, and Edith were the actual names of Longfellow’s daughters.)

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 8, 2020 at 4:33 AM

Posted in nature photography

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60 Responses

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  1. the perfect golden hour shot


    December 8, 2020 at 4:50 AM

  2. This picture is definitely gold, even at this early hour, it generated a “wow!”. Really remarkable.

    Robert Parker

    December 8, 2020 at 5:46 AM

    • I appreciate your remark about this being remarkable; we might say as good as gold. And wows are always welcome.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 8, 2020 at 6:34 AM

  3. Great shot! I love that poem. My parental heart gets it.


    December 8, 2020 at 6:02 AM

    • And I get that your parental heart gets it. Did you already know this poem?

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 8, 2020 at 6:35 AM

      • I have read it before, but it’s been ages since then. It was lovely reading it again.


        December 8, 2020 at 7:33 AM

        • Then it’s good that you got reacquainted.

          Steve Schwartzman

          December 8, 2020 at 7:43 AM

          • It is. I even grabbed my book of his selected works and bookmarked the poem to reread again later slowly. 😀


            December 8, 2020 at 7:48 AM

            • The fact that you even have a book of his selected works is a rarity these days. In the second half of the 1800s he was probably the most read poet in the country, and now he’s practically unknown to Americans who aren’t up there in age.

              Steve Schwartzman

              December 8, 2020 at 8:21 AM

              • My copy is old- from the late 80’s. Its pages are yellow, and a bit dirty on the edges, but well loved. If I take a book with me when I travel it’s this book or one of Mary Oliver’s selected works.

                When I was purging books when packing to move not one of my poetry books got tossed out or donated. They all made the move with me. 😀


                December 8, 2020 at 8:31 AM

  4. lovely, Steve


    December 8, 2020 at 6:53 AM

  5. I swear the birds watch and wait and when we put that camera to our eye – off they fly!


    December 8, 2020 at 8:11 AM

    • You said it: I’ve had that happen many times. With that in mind, I’ve taken to raising the camera slowly to my eyes to minimize rapid movements.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 8, 2020 at 8:17 AM

  6. Congratulations, Steve, on such a well-focused capture of the egret in flight! The more you need to zoom in on a bird in motion, the more likely it is to get a blurry image.

    Peter Klopp

    December 8, 2020 at 8:23 AM

    • How right you are. We need long lenses for most bird pictures, yet the longer the focal length, the shallower the depth of field. I had to settle for the bird’s central axis in focus. We can make the best of it and say that the blurred extremities of the wings add dynamism to the photograph.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 8, 2020 at 8:27 AM

  7. This is a nice image, Steve. I like how the wings connect with the reflections of the trees. My mind flew to that poem, as well, and what a wonderful poem it is.


    December 8, 2020 at 9:28 AM

    • We might say you borrowed the wings of the long-legged heron to fly to Longfellow’s poem. Speaking of the trees’ reflection, did you notice parts of the bird reflected in the water too?

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 8, 2020 at 9:48 AM

      • Oh, yes, I see that now.
        You’ve inspired me to seek the evening version of the golden hour one of these days, if the sun ever returns. I’m a big fan of cloudy days as well, though, so I’m not complaining.


        December 8, 2020 at 10:11 AM

        • Sounds like you’re covered either way. It’s 70° and sunny in Austin now.

          Steve Schwartzman

          December 8, 2020 at 3:35 PM

          • Paul and our son were wistfully exchanging images of Savannah Georgia the other day…


            December 9, 2020 at 8:41 AM

            • There’s much to be said for a warm climate.

              Steve Schwartzman

              December 9, 2020 at 11:25 AM

              • There is, I have to admit. Also, in some areas at least, it is more fun to look because you can actually afford a nice house. When I look in WA it gets pretty depressing, the crummy little shacks wedged in too close to each other and most of the beautiful trees long gone.


                December 10, 2020 at 8:56 AM

                • When I moved to Austin over four decades ago it was the most affordable of Texas’s main cities. I’ve heard that for some years now it’s been the least affordable. As we’ve been driving around the Austin and its suburbs for the past few weeks we’ve been stupefied by the number of new subdivisions under construction or recently opened.

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  December 10, 2020 at 9:32 AM

  8. I agree with Beth: a perfect shot!


    December 8, 2020 at 9:30 AM

  9. Beautiful shot. As for Longfellow, His “Mezzo Cammin” always resonated with me… interestingly enough, Leonard Cohen wrote a song, “Tower of Song,” which is included in one of the lines of this Longfellow short and bittersweet poem. I got an anhinga in flight down in Florida last November, but didn’t get it completely in focus. On the same day, saw a Great Blue Heron standing in the shadows and took as many shots as I could as it sauntered along the waterside before finally taking off. I must say, though, that your photos do seem to capture the feeling one must have felt when taking the photo. It’s what separates skilled artists from amateur snapshots, I suppose.


    December 8, 2020 at 12:52 PM

    • Regarding the poem you mentioned, I assume Longfellow took its title from the beginning of Dante’s Divine Comedy: “Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita / Mi ritrovai per una selva oscura, /Ché la diritta via era smarrita.” “In the middle of the pathway of our life / I found myself in a dark forest / For the straightforward way had been lost.” I wonder if Leonard Cohen in turn took the phrase “tower of song” from Longfellow’s poem; of course it could have been an independent creation.

      As for today’s picture, I was excited at the prospect I saw that afternoon, so I’m pleased you got a good feeling from the resulting picture. Based on my own policy, I’ll hazard a guess that skilled photographers don’t show their failures (except perhaps in teaching mode, to point out what went wrong).

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 8, 2020 at 3:50 PM

  10. That poem is a real tear-jerker, but many things are like that for me as I visualize what he describes and those three happy and very loved children.

    My thoughts of the Golden Hour lead more to Tennyson, especially in autumn, from The Princess: Tears, Idle Tears

    Tears, idle tears, I know not what they mean,
    Tears from the depth of some divine despair
    Rise in the heart, and gather to the eyes,
    In looking on the happy Autumn-fields,
    And thinking of the days that are no more


    December 8, 2020 at 3:41 PM

  11. I am delighted that I found your blog, Steve. Dear Longfellow – he gave so much to our world. I was just listening to “I heard the bells”


    December 8, 2020 at 5:24 PM

    • Welcome to Portraits of Wildflowers (and more). You prompted me to read Longfellow’s “Christmas Bells” online. The fourth stanza suddenly made clear that he wrote the poem during the Civil War, so I looked for more information and found this:


      Steve Schwartzman

      December 8, 2020 at 6:05 PM

      • Isn’t that interesting, Steve. Thank you for this great link. There are so many stories that are held safe in the folds of history. I love going back into history – it’s like going on a treasure hunt and finding a pot of gold. I am delighted that we met up in the blogging community.


        December 8, 2020 at 6:36 PM

        • It’s good to meet someone else who resonates to history. In recent years I’ve often thought that if I had it to do again I’d major in history.

          Steve Schwartzman

          December 8, 2020 at 6:49 PM

          • I confess that math was not my favourite subject, preferring history. BUT, I somehow found myself in a career that used math. And then I decided to pursue a MBA, somehow forgetting that most of the courses involved math, statistic etc. You can imagine my unmitigated terror when the first textbooks came my way. I wished with all my heart that I had been more diligent in attending my high school algebra classes. I took a deep breath and found a wonderful tutor. Going back to math opened my mind to new possibilities and reminded me that we need each other to achieve great things. I would never have passed those courses without help.


            December 8, 2020 at 9:34 PM

            • Everybody’s good at some things and not at others. Math is almost no one’s favorite subject, and I’ve often enough encountered people who say they didn’t like it in school and are no good at it. It’s encouraging to hear you got help with math in graduate school from a wonder tutor, and that the experience opened your mind to new possibilities.

              Steve Schwartzman

              December 8, 2020 at 10:55 PM

  12. Nice catch at an ideal time, Steve.

    Steve Gingold

    December 9, 2020 at 5:03 AM

    • I’m much more likely to be out in the afternoon’s golden hour than in the morning’s, even though I’m up early enough every day.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 9, 2020 at 7:08 AM

  13. The golden light in your photo recalls the “Edith with golden hair” in Longfellow’s poem. In some ways, Longfellow captured the poignancy of that light — at least for children — better than anyone. While I enjoy the poem you selected, there’s another I memorized as a kid, just because I kept repeating it to myself when I was frustrated by the same experience Longfellow described:

    “In winter I get up at night
    And dress by yellow candle-light.
    In summer quite the other way,
    I have to go to bed by day.

    I have to go to bed and see
    The birds still hopping on the tree,
    Or hear the grown-up people’s feet
    Still going past me in the street.

    And does it not seem hard to you,
    When all the sky is clear and blue,
    And I should like so much to play,
    To have to go to bed by day?”


    December 9, 2020 at 7:40 AM

    • For language-minded me, the mental link was from the words “golden hour” to the words “children’s hour.” Now you’ve added a visual link between the light itself and Edith’s golden hair.We have to wonder what the speaker in Longfellow’s poem would make of Daylight Saving Time.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 9, 2020 at 10:12 AM

  14. Because the contrast is less during the golden hour, shadows are less dark, and highlights are less likely to be overexposed. In landscape photography, the warm color of the low Sun is often considered desirable to enhance the colours of the scene. It is the best time of day for any type of photography since the light is properly diffused and warm.


    December 10, 2020 at 3:10 AM

    • (Sorry for the late reply; WordPress put your comment in the spam folder.) What you say about the warm colors and the reduction of harsh contrasts is of course true, and that’s why so many photographers value the golden hour. On the other hand, many of the nature photographs I take and have shown here are closeups of plants and insects, and I’ve found I often get good results even in the middle of the day, with its harsher light. Sometimes that brightness also lets me stop down for greater depth of field, which is important in macro photography.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 16, 2020 at 7:14 AM

  15. Back when I was getting into serious photography, I remember Galen Rowell using the “golden light” term as if he had invented it, and I rather thought that he had, but it’s such an appropriate term that it doesn’t matter. There is true magic for us in these fleeting moments. It’s a lovely shot, Steve.


    December 11, 2020 at 1:35 AM

  16. This is a very beautiful photo. I love it.


    December 11, 2020 at 7:41 PM

    • Thanks for letting me know. It’s different from other pictures I’ve taken, and that’s one reason I was happy with it.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 11, 2020 at 7:43 PM

  17. Your golden hour is fabulous Steve!


    December 14, 2020 at 11:39 AM

  18. I’m a sucker for Great egrets. Every now and then we get one in the Seattle area but I always miss seeing them. This lovely one, flying off against those golden reflections and shadows, is quite beautiful. And the poem is nice to read again.


    December 21, 2020 at 2:39 PM

    • Great egrets are pretty common in Austin. A familiar experience here is to be walking near a pond and suddenly one of these white birds will take off from where it was hidden. That happened to us three days ago and there was no way to get a picture. In this case I at least saw the egret from a distance and had time to put on a telephoto lens.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 21, 2020 at 5:42 PM

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