Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Golden Hour

The Golden Hour In Galilee (Rhode Island)
Duang and I have been in the USA for seven months now.  Caring for my parents takes up most of our time but on occasions we do get out for a few hours.  I am not able to take as many or the types of photographs that I prefer back in Southeast Asia.  Here in the USA people are more sensitive and suspicious of having their photograph taken; and even more so of photographs of their children!  Back in Thailand and Laos, people are honored to have you take their photograph and even more so photographs of their children.   Up until around 1999, the vast majority of my photographs were of landscapes and animals with perhaps as little as 5% being of people.  Now, outside of the USA, 90% of my photos are of people.

Saturday, Duang and I drove over to the Washington County Fair in nearby Rhode Island.  I wanted Duang to experience a quasi-rural county fair.  I brought along my camera gear in anticipation and hopes of getting some photographs.  The Fair was nice but after about two hours, Duang was a little intimidated by the amount of people and was tired.  I had taken only 6 pictures and was quite conscious that the few people that I would consider photographing were not all that willing to be subjects.  Undeterred we moved on to Plan "B".

On previous trips to the area, we had toured some of the areas that I had frequented during my years at the University of Rhode Island but we had yet to spend any time at the local fishing villages.  Plan "B" was to drive down to Galilee, have some dinner, and take some photographs during the "Golden Hour" which is sometimes referred to as the "Magic Hour"  If I could not take photographs of interesting people, I would fall back on to what I used to shoot ... landscapes and work on some portraits of my willing model Duang.

The "Golden Hour" is roughly the time just after the sun rises in the morning or the time just before the sun sets in the evening.  It is at this time that the sun is low on the horizon which produces a much softer and more diffuse light than the midday sun.  During the "Golden Hour", shadows are not as dark or as sharp as during the other times of the day.  The light is also warmer with more of a reddish hue.  This time is also a time when magic can occur.




Nossa Senhora do Carmo By Day, Ouro Preto, Brasil
The strongest example of the magic that I have experienced occurred in Ouro Preto (Black Gold), Brasil in November 2000.  Ouro Preto is a colonial mining town located in the state of Minas Gerais.  It is the location where gold was first discovered in Brasil. It is now a UNESCO World Heritage Center.  It is a beautiful and fascinating place to visit and even more so; to photograph.
The center of town is dominated by many large colonial structures one of them being the church, Igreja Nossa Senhora do Carmo.  The church is covered in stucco which like the concrete structures of Asia develops an unattractive "patina" of soot, smoke, mold and mildew making the buildings a dull light grey with streaks of black if they have not been recently power washed.  It is what it is.  However it can be at times marvelous especially during the "Golden Hour" when everything is magically transformed.



Igreja Senhora do Carmo During the "Golden Hour"

I had been walking about the city all afternoon long with my wife when we were headed into the center of town to have dinner before grabbing a taxi to our possada on the outskirts of town.  Walking the streets of Ouro Preto can be a challenge.  The town is very hilly, some of the streets are quite steep, and many of the streets are cobble stoned.  Along with the elevation of 1,100 meters (3,400 ft) and heat, these factors all contribute to tiring you out.  As we were crossing over a small stone bridge during the "Golden Hour" just prior to making our way up to the city center, I saw Nossa Senhora do Carmo unlike anytime before during our stay.  It was completely bathed in gold - golden light.  It was awesome.  Since my wife was tired I had her sit on a bench placed on the bridge, while I hustled up the steep street to get a better perspective for photographing the sight.  I ended up taking 7 pictures.  Seven pictures?  At the time I was shooting film so I was much more prudent in the number of photos that I took than today with my digital cameras.  After taking the seven shots, I excitedly returned to where my wife was waiting.  I described how beautiful the scene was and when I turned around to point out the golden scene, the light was already gone.  My "Igreja D'Ouro" (Church of Gold) had transformed with the dying of the light into a cold drab bluish grey building.  The entire metamorphosis from a light grey black streaked building to a golden shrine and then to a cold drab bluish grey structure had taken about 15 minutes.  Although the magical time is referred to as the "Golden Hour" it is not exactly an hour because of location and locale.  Because Ouro Preto is closer to the equator and because it is so hilly, the magic lasts much less than an hour.

"Igreja d'Ouro"

Eleven years later back in the USA, I had no expectations of capturing the magic of Ouro Preto but I was looking forward to seeing what could be made from the "Golden Hour" in Galilee, Rhode Island.  Like most places and all people, a great deal has changed in the 40 years since I left the area.

Where fishing boats used to command center stage in the center of the port, the two Block Island ferries, one traditional and the other high speed, dominate the port as well as surrounding land.  George's Restaurant is still at the mouth of the port serving up their famous chowder and fritters along with other seafood fare.  The restaurant is much larger than I remember and I am certain that wait staff are children and grandchildren of the staff that I was familiar with.  A great surprise was despite the cost increases, the food was better than I remembered and the best clam fritters that we have had since we arrived in America.



After our dinner we drove down to the edge of town where the fishing boats now are docked.  It was around 6:50 PM and it was a perfect time.  Other than a few people boarding charter vessels for night fishing excursions, we had the docks to ourselves and the sea gulls.  There was no one around to tell us what we could not do.  There was no one around to look out for us and to question our intentions or motives.

Duang and I walked along the various docks enjoying the sights and smells of a working fish dock.  I took some photos of moored boats and other things.  As in Brasil the "Golden Hour" was also a "Magic Hour".  The low sun was transforming ordinary things into extraordinary sights.  The diffuse warm light enhances the colors and textures.  I took some photographs of  a pile of fishing gear on the dock - a mundane subject if under the harsh light of the afternoon sun but very interesting under the soft light.



Duang was enjoying the moment by taking her own photographs with her camera.  We were on the dock that service boats with ice when I got the idea to take some portraits of Duang, my always willing model.  With the limited opportunities to take my documentary style photographs of people, I have been looking into learning more about studio lighting for portraits.  I have researched renting a studio and studio lighting as well as attending a class related to studio lighting hopefully in the near future.

In some aspects the available light on the dock in Galilee was the type of light photographers work to create in the studio artificially.  I decided to try some techniques out, after all it was free and I enjoy photographing Duang.


Duang In Galilee ... Galilee, Rhode Island
Duang On The Dock Of the Bay, Galilee
Duang Enjoying the "Golden Hour"
We spent 25 minutes photographing and enjoying the summer evening.  Around 7:15 PM the light quality was diminishing rapidly.  It was time to head on home.

It Is All About the Light
Our afternoon out had worked out very well.  Just as often the case is in life, things did not go as we had hoped or expected.  Just as in life we adapted and made the most of the opportunities that did present themselves.

In photography, we are all presented with the opportunities and magic of the "Golden Hour".  If you can get outside, it is there for you everyday and for free.  You may not be able to take the exact photographs that you typically do, but you can learn to broaden your perspectives and enlarge your focus - a worthwhile endeavor and pleasant way to spend any evening.

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