Golden Hour Photography Tips

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Golden hour photography is one of the most popular niches, especially among hobbyists. However, it has been there ever since colored photography was invented, but it gained more popularity since Instagram aesthetics began.

The first hour before sunset and after sunrise is referred to as the Golden Hour. The light in this hour provides a natural golden effect, unlike any other day or night. Once any professional or hobbyist learns to harness the stunning opportunities golden hours offer, his works automatically stand out among his acquaintances.

This natural golden light naturally has a soft effect compared to harsh sunlight and studio lights. This makes the golden hour the window of time to produce stunning results without putting in much effort. Besides that, anyone can take advantage of this light almost every day.

Here are some tips using which anyone can make the most of Golden Hour.

Tips for Golden Hour Photography:

Pre-plan your shoot

Pre-planning your shoot can save you from many troubles in every type of photography, but it is specifically important in golden hour photography. Both after sunrise and before sunset, this time of the day is minimal. If you start planning your shoot during the golden hour, it will pass even before figuring out your stuff.

Horses on a field at the golden hour

Some things you should figure out:

  • When actually, it is the golden hour. The timings vary depending upon the region and time of the year. You can google it, or for more precise timings, you can use apps like Alpenglow, Exsate Golden Hour, Photo Time, Magic Hour. We strongly recommend using apps because most of these have features like how much time is left before the start/end of golden hour, duration of sunrise/sunset, weather calculations et cetera.
  • Shooting location
  • Where are you going to position the subject?
  • Exposure settings, especially if you are shooting professionally
  • Either your camera/phone is working properly or not
  • Your shooting device is set on your desired setting

Understanding lightning scenarios

Understanding lightning scenarios can be your key to get perfect golden hour photographers without putting in any effort. This photography genre is all about light. There are around five lighting scenarios, and each one casts a different impact.

  • Front light where the subject faces the light directly. This light is best for portraits. Usually, when the subject faces the sun directly, it appears very bright because of high exposure or has to squint its eyes. But facing golden light, you will get a warm glowy effect under direct sunlight, but the subject won’t have any need to squint.
  • Backlight is when the subject is in the foreground of the sunlight. Keeping your camera’s exposure on high settings while golden light in the background can get very aesthetic effects.
  • The rim light is where light creates a halo around the subject. The subject is positioned so that the background is relatively dark, and the sun is also not facing the subject directly. Light usually falls from the top left or top right side.
  • Sunflare, where sunlight hits the lens, and you get a flare effect.
  • Silhouette effect where subjects appear completely dark in front of bright golden backgrounds. This effect is usually achievable during the very last minutes of the golden hour.

Take advantage of Apps.

As mentioned prior, golden hour calculator apps can really come in handy. These apps tell you as much as that what will be the sun’s position at any given time. Using golden hour apps, you can save time as well as plan the shoot better.

Avoid JPEG images

Shooting under the sun rays of golden hour, there is a risk of losing image details because of underexposure or overexposure. JPEG images are compressed, so they lose details, making the details recovery difficult once lost. JPEG images are also difficult to edit and process.

Compared to that, RAW images retain all the image information, enabling photographers to capture more detailed images and give a creative window in post-production.

Play with highlights and shadow

Highlights and shadows detailing are exceptional during golden hours, especially shadows which are long and dramatic. Take advantage of these, especially while shooting cityscapes and architectural photography. You can also benefit from post-production processes to pull up highlights and shadows.

Another tip, while you are playing with highlights and shadows, is raising the shadows and pulling down the highlights. Professional photographers use this technique, and it helps to achieve the perfect balance between these two under golden sunlight.

Golden hour woman portrait

Shoot a lot of photos

The golden hour is for merely 50-60 minutes, but with that light during this hour is continuously changing. Shoot a photo, and just after 5 minutes shooting the same subject at the same position, you will get an image with a totally different look. Shoot faster and as many photos as possible to shoot every opportunity.

White balance settings

Either shooting with your smartphone or digital camera, make sure your gadget’s WB feature is turned off. This feature helps correct exposure and other minor illumination problems in an image, but it can ruin your golden hour image. This genre is all about the golden glow of the image, but this color correction feature attempts to neutralize this effect.

If you can handle manual camera settings, want to use WB, and your gadget has this feature, set it on Cloudy/Shade settings. This setting has a higher temperature so that it will add warmth to your images.

Take advantage of photography gear

Photography gears, especially tripods and zoom lenses, can really come in handy while shooting under the golden light. These hours have low light compared to usual outdoor lighting, so a tripod will help you make sure nothing messes up. Using a zoom lens, you don’t have to move much during the shoot, which will save you time and help to make the most of this hour.

Reflectors and low-powered flash with a diffuser are handy when shooting with the sun in the background. These bounce back some of the light on the subject so that subject is also exposed to the light, and you do not end up with a silhouette or dark image.

Lens hoods can be used to add a lens flare for an artistic touch.

Go for creative blur

Blur is a nightmare of every photographer but playing with it creatively. You can achieve very nice effects. Using creative blur, i.e., motion blur, panning, et cetera under golden effects of sun rays, can be your very effective storytelling tools.

To get this blur without ruining the image, first, drop your ISO settings low, like 100 or 200, and adjust the depth of field/aperture at f/5.6 or wide.

Blur mountains at the golden hour

High Dynamic Range (HDR)

This tip is specifically for people who shoot with a DSLR or have a smartphone with this feature. HDR produces a greater range of luminosity and can capture much higher stops of exposure in a single frame. The images shot under HDR have greater appeal without losing any format.

These photos do not need many touches, and more details mean that these open the world of unlimited possibilities in post-production.

To give the artistic effect, you can also blend your HDR photos while editing, for example, merging images with brighter sky in with images with the darker foreground. It will allow you to create a truly unique image from two regular images.

HDR scenery in the mountains

Post-processing

Do not shy away from playing with different features of editors in post-processing. In fact, shoot your images to process them. You cannot control natural circumstances, but the editing process is always in your control. For example, you can bring out colors of images, increase/decrease highlights and shadows, add other special effects, i.e., bokeh, etc.

Stay in manual mode

If you have something specific in mind, we highly recommend you shoot in manual mode. Auto mode has its pros but shooting with the manual mode. You have complete control over your camera, especially the aperture and shutter speed.

Using manual mode, you can also use spot metering. This feature allows the camera to expose the focal point precisely. For example, if you are shooting with a subject in the foreground, spot metering ensures that the subject is fully exposed and does not end up with a silhouette.

Bonus tip if you are using manual settings:  Increase the ISO as the sun goes down.

Conclusion

The possibilities in the world of golden hour photography are unlimited. Like, isn’t it amazing that the same camera settings, same subject position, but the image will turn out totally different even if both are shot merely with the difference of 2-3 minutes?

Besides following tips and techniques, the best way to master the art of golden hour photography is by experimenting with it. Take out your camera and start shooting. This warm golden light is so compromising that you will end up with some really nice results! But obviously, applying the tricks mentioned prior can be a bonus for your work.