Travel Photography Tip #3: Magic Hour

You don’t have to be a professional photographer to take the perfect travel photos; all you need are some good techniques. A great picture doesn’t have to be perfect but it should be visually stimulating and pleasing to the eye. I’m no pro, but I do take high-quality photos and it’s because I follow my own guidelines. I can remember just a few years ago, I was completely an amateur and my photos looked like it. After some practice and a little research, I was able to pinpoint some important rules to taking great travel photos.

Today we will talk about when to take pictures, focusing on the time of day. Lighting is important to a photo because it allows all aspects to be clearly visible. The magic hour is terminology that every photographer, professional or amateur, should understand. The magic hour is an hour after sunrise or an hour before sunset, when the natural light is perfect for capturing your subject in all its glory.  

A good photographer will get up early or stay out late just to get the right shot and this includes the magic hour.  Photos not taken during these magic hours are often too bright or not illuminated enough, so it rewards the shutterbug for their efforts. Overcast skies resemble the lighting of the magic hour, so pray for cloudy skies; your photos will thank you.


Waking up early can be very beneficial for capturing some amazing photos. If you are trying to take pictures in an already busy tourist area, getting up before the sun rises will help you beat the crowds. Nobody is clamoring to look at crowds of people in line to see an attraction, so beat the rush and get there early. You won’t be the only one with a camera early; it’s a common practice among professionals.   I can guarantee that your pictures will be better without hordes of people and your subjects will be clearer.

If you are searching for the magic hour, you had better find out when sunrise and sunset are. Knowing this will help you be in place when the magic hour strikes.

The weather will have a bearing on your pictures, so check the forecast to see if your early rising will be worth the trouble. The mornings are often more gloomy than evenings so be prepared for an overcast sky. Many will think that overcast skies are bad for photography, when in fact, it makes the magic hour last much longer.

By waking up early, you get an interesting view of things seldom seen by tourists. Most tourists travel on similar schedules, making attractions busy during popular times and photos less unique. I like to see how huge operations like farmers markets are set up; it lets you see how the locals live, which makes for excellent travel snapshots.


Staying out late to get the images you desire is a great technique for taking amazing travel pictures. I’m sure you’ve seen photos of cityscapes, with the downtown lights twinkling in the night sky. These are some of my favorites vignettes, showing just how bustling a city can be. I like to take these and compare to see which locals I visit have the most active nightlife.

Some cities, like Las Vegas, just look better at night. Vegas is a city that at night looks like one of the eight wonders of the world and during the day, it looks like one of the saddest, worn out cities imaginable. You want the vibrant color of the city lights with an almost black backdrop, so I advise you search for that magic hour. If it is too dark, the shadows can overtake the beauty of the photo and you may lose some contrast.

When shooting at night, I also recommend using a tripod, to help stabilize your camera. Many times, cameras at night will use a higher sensitivity lens, which takes longer to actually take the picture. This time taking the picture means you must keep the camera stable the entire time or it can easily be out of focus.

Remember to use these tips and you will be taking radical travel photos in no time.  The magic hour or Golden Hour is short-lived, so be prepared and take some amazing photos.