Getting this Shot – Desert Golden Hour

Although this is a seemingly simple photo, it’s the subtle nuances of layers and gradients of colors that make it evocative.

  • Finding scenes that allow for “layering” shots like this is not easy. Once you know what you’re looking for, it’s rather easy to spot them when they do appear.  However, they aren’t around every corner.  Familiarize yourself with the overall look of those mountains and hills in the background.  It’s the haze and distance that allows for that beautiful gradient.  You’ll often notice such scenes in places like the Appalachian and Rocky Mountains, as they exhibit similar distant and spread out ranges.  So, when in mountainous areas, be on the lookout.
  • Once you spot layered mountains, you can either choose to photograph just the ranges themselves, or you can try and find something in the foreground to give it some context. A word of warning… layered mountains like the above tend to look a bit like abstract art when photographed without something in the foreground to help the viewer relate.
  • As with any landscape shot, focus the camera on the foreground, which is in this case the nearest plateau with several trees sticking up.
  • Once you take a test shot, see what you want to improve upon. If you are photographing during the golden hour (about one hour before the sun sets), you may wish to calibrate your camera’s white balance so that you’re accurately getting the colors in your shot.  If you’re not sure how to calibrate it, try setting your white balance on “cloudy” or “shady” if the camera is not picking up enough yellow.  These two settings increase the amount of yellow the camera picks up, often producing excellent results during golden hour, sunset, dusk photography.  This particular shot was at a color temperature of 9600K.
  • Take a few more photos, and readjust as needed. Since light is diminishing, you may opt for a more shallow depth of field compared to a typical landscape shot.  While you may normally shoot this at f/11 during mid-day, trying going lower to f/8 or even f/5.6 if the shutter isn’t firing fast enough due to limited light.

Now get out there and experiment a bit!