San Francisco's Golden Gate bridge during the golden hour

The Golden Gate Bridge, just before sunrise. (Photo: Michael Bennett/National Geographic Travel's Your Shot)

In photography, the golden hour refers to certain times of the day when the sun casts soft, warm light on the world as it rises and sets.
Because light travels through more of the Earth's atmosphere when the sun is situated near or below the horizon, the light produced has a golden, diffused quality. Photographers around the world covet this precious light for its ability to reduce intense, contrasty shadows and highlights in favor of more balanced exposures.
In National Geographic Travel's Your Shot: Golden Hour gallery, photographers demonstrate just how magical a photo can be when it's shot during this special time. Here are 10 stunning highlights from the gallery, with captions provided by each photographer.
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Washington state's Mount Baker during the golden hour

Photo: Joel Brady-Power/National Geographic Travel's Your Shot

Mount Baker, Wash.
"After three days of snowstorms on Mount Baker in Washington State, I snowshoed through thigh-deep snow to get this pristine view of Mount Shuksan at sunrise."

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Masai Mara, Kenya during the golden hour

Photo: Florentina Tilvic/National Geographic Travel's Your Shot

Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya

"Acacia tree and gnus grazing in the sunrise at Masai Mara reserve in Kenya."

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The glowing streets of Montparnasse, Paris during the golden hour

Photo: Mathieu Dupuis/National Geographic Travel's Your Shot

Montparnasse, Paris

"Magic hour in the streets of Paris. Montparnasse, Ile-de-France, France."

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Santorini, Greece during the golden hour

Photo: Raymond Choo/National Geographic Travel's Your Shot

Santorini, Greece
"The picturesque Oia village is located on a sheer cliff on the northern tip of the volcanic Santorini island in Greece. It is famous for its architecture and sunset views."

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Swans on the Vltava River in Prague during the golden hour

Photo: Jaromir Chalabala/National Geographic Travel's Your Shot

Vltava River, Prague

"Frosty morning in Prague. Silhouette of swans on Vltava River in mystery fog."

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Klyuchevskoy eruption in Kamchatka, Russia during the golden hour

Photo: Sergiy Kadulin/National Geographic Travel's Your Shot

Kamchatka, Russia
"Klyuchevskoy volcano eruption as seen in the morning, when first sunlight touches smoke from the crater. Kamchatka, Russia, September 2013."

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Golden hour sunset behind the Matterhorn in Switzerland

Photo: Nan Li Toh/National Geographic Travel's Your Shot

Matterhorn, Switzerland
"This is any photographer's regular spot for sunrise but I took a bet with sunset and it worked out pretty well. The timing had to be just right. I waited for the sun to disappear behind the peak of Matterhorn, and the colors started to become warm and just about enough for me to capture this shot of the Riffelsee Lake with Matterhorn and the surroundings in the reflections of the lake."

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Sun sets over Monument Valley in Utah during the golden hour

Photo: Mark Donougher/National Geographic Travel's Your Shot

Monument Valley, Utah

"Sunset provides magical light for less than five minutes on the Diné deities."

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Golden hour in Rodna, Romania

Photo: Lazar Ovidiu/National Geographic Travel's Your Shot

Rodna, Romania

"Mist hovers in the air during the golden hour in Rodna, Bistrița-Năsăud, Romania."

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Catie Leary is a photo editor at Mother Nature Network. Follow her on Twitter and Google+.

Catie Leary ( @catieleary ) writes about science, travel, animals and the arts.

10 landscapes magically transformed by light
The golden hour refers to the magical time of the day when the sun sets or rises, casting a soft light.