What Is the Difference Between Golden Hour and Alpenglow?

Mia Chow · Nov 19, 2023 · Estimated reading time: 2 minutes

Golden hour and alpenglow are both natural lighting phenomena that are highly appreciated in photography, cinematography, and art for their unique and captivating qualities. However, they are distinct in their characteristics and the conditions under which they occur.

Golden Hour

Golden hour refers to the period shortly after sunrise or before sunset. During this time, the sun is low in the sky, producing a soft, diffused light which is warmer in color temperature compared to the harsh midday sun. This warm light is flattering for landscapes and portraits as it adds a golden hue, enhances textures, and creates long shadows. Golden hour is known for its ability to add a magical, dreamy quality to photographs and is a favorite among photographers.

Mountain side during the golden hour, with the sunlight casting a warm, golden hue on the peaks.


Alpenglow, on the other hand, is a specific kind of twilight phenomenon. It occurs when the sun is just below the horizon, either in the evening after sunset or before sunrise in the morning. During alpenglow, the sunlight indirectly illuminates the sky and reflects off clouds, dust, and particulates in the atmosphere, as well as mountain peaks and high clouds. This phenomenon creates a reddish or pinkish glow, often seen on the snow-capped peaks of mountains, hence the name "alpenglow."

Mountain bathed in alpenglow, with the pinkish glow of the setting or rising sun reflecting off the mountain's surface.

Differences Between Golden Hour and Alpenglow

Timing and Position of the Sun

Golden hour occurs with the sun above the horizon, whereas alpenglow happens with the sun below the horizon.

Color Tones

Golden hour is characterized by warm golden tones, while alpenglow tends to have reddish or pinkish hues.

Direction of Light

During golden hour, sunlight is direct but diffused, whereas alpenglow is a result of indirect sunlight.

Atmospheric Conditions

Alpenglow is more dependent on atmospheric conditions like the presence of particulates and clouds for its distinct appearance.

Both golden hour and alpenglow offer unique opportunities for capturing the beauty of the natural world in different lights. Understanding the differences between these two phenomena can help photographers and artists make the most of these moments, creating stunning and evocative photographs.

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