Photography: Magic Hour

Story and photos by Hal Goodtree. First published on

Cary, NC – There are lots of tricks to shooting effective pictures for real estate. But when it comes to shooting the exterior of a house, you can’t go wrong with Magic Hour.

Magic Hour in Photography

Magic Hour is a special time of the day when the sky is a deep indigo blue and the golden orange lights from the house can be seen through the windows.

Technically, it’s about half an hour before sunrise or after sunset.

The sky has to look almost black – just a hint of blue vibrating up in the sky. That’s when the Magic happens.

The Blue We Can’t See

Cameras are built to see things as humans do. But at the extremes of lighting, the camera sees far better than humans, particularly in the blues.

To us, the sky looks almost black. But at just the right moment, the sky will look electric blue to a digital camera.

This is because cameras have a wider spectrum of sensitivity. They are designed to see into low light.

At Magic Hour (really Magic Minute), the light still in the sky is a super-blue. We can’t see it, but the camera can.

How to Do It

For real estate, most Magic Hour pictures are at sunset. Who wants to get up at sunrise for a picture?

Pay attention to the time of sunset. No need to get there while you can see any piece of the sun in the sky. It has to be below the horizon.

Make sure you’ve turned on a few lights in the house. Exterior spotlights can add some definition, but generally avoid the front door lights. They are usually too bright for the Magic Hour effect.

A tripod and a cable release or timer helps, but I’ve hand held this many times with good results.

Start with your camera in normal exposure mode. Take a picture every minute or two.

At some point, you’ll be at the perfect balance of light in the sky and from the home. Keep taking pictures every minute until the sky becomes too dark.

If you’re happy, you can quit and go home. But if you know how to change the exposure on your camera, you can continue working. I crank up the ISO on my camera in increments until I’m at the max (6400 on my Nikon).

The Mother of All Magic Hour Pictures

A couple of years ago, I took a panorama made of 75 photos that captures the transition from afternoon to evening at North Hills.

Click on the picture to see the entire composited shot.

Or, better yet, visit the North Hills homepage. Run your mouse over the photograph left or right of center. The picture will begin to scroll – right for night, left for day.

2 replies

Comments are closed.