Tips for Shooting Golden Hour Photography
The right light can make a single photo stop you in your tracks. Imagine a warm, natural glow that makes everyone and everything look their best. That’s the magic of golden hour photography.
When Is Golden Hour?
The golden hour starts roughly one hour after sunrise and one hour before sunset. If you want a more exact time for when the golden hour starts, you can use a golden hour calculator like the Photographer’s Ephemeris. Or try a free app like Helios Golden Hour and Blue Hour Calculator.
You can also use an online golden hour calculator like this one to find out when the golden hours start at a specific location.
The golden hour’s soft, warm, directional light makes it easier to shoot than the harsh light of a midday sun. Both professional photographers and beginners prefer to shoot during the golden hours since it’s easier to work with.
Golden hour gets its characteristic look since the sun is in a lower position in the sky. Compared to other times of day, golden hour light is:
- Soft : the transition from light to dark is gradual, creating soft light that’s universally flattering and particularly good for portraits.
- Warm : the low angle of the sun creates an orange glow, associated with calm and happiness.
- Directional : since the sun is low in the sky, it’s easy to create back-lighting, side lighting or front lighting with just the sun and an inexpensive reflector or a modified fill flash.
Together, those three characteristics form the magic of the golden hour. All you have to do to take advantage of the golden hours is adjust your shooting time. And perhaps wake up a little earlier!
Our Top Tips for Shooting During Golden Hour
Get the Timing Right
Golden hour is one of the easiest types of natural light to work with, but it can still go wrong. You can run out of time and have to shoot ISOs as the light wanes, or take portraits where the subject is squinting.
To avoid rushing, plan on arriving at least an hour before sunset, depending on the weather conditions. If the weather is cloudy, give yourself even more time. Overcast days don’t provide quite the same magic, but the type of light is still soft and directional.
Position the Shot to Make the Most of Golden Hour
If you’re new to working with light, pay attention to the sun’s position for the best quality of light. For portrait photography, arrange your shot so that the sun is to the side. If you are not shooting a portrait, the sun should be in front of your subject. Don’t use front lighting from the sun for portraits, or you’ll get a squint.
One of the best uses for the golden hour is back-lighting. Placing the sun behind your subject gives you that magical glow.
Choose the Best Golden Hour Camera Settings
to make the most of back-lighting and to adjust exposure. Or in a semi-manual mode such as aperture priority with spot metering.
Spot metering tells the camera to expose for wherever the focal point is, instead of considering the entire scene. Without spot metering, you’ll most likely end up with a dark subject or even a silhouette.
On most DSLRs, there’s a physical shortcut for the
metering mode. On many models, you can also adjust metering mode inside the menu.
Another great way to shoot with golden hour backlight is to use a reflector. Bounce some of the light back on the subject, creating a more even exposure. A low-powered flash with a diffuser also does the trick.
If I can’t juggle the reflector in the right spot, I use a hot shoe flash on-camera, but on a low setting with a diffuser. An orange gel is also helpful – the color helps the flash blend in with the ambient, or existing, light.
Golden hour settings vary based on the exact light and the subject. For portraits, I shoot with a low aperture, around f/1.8 to f/2.8. If I’m shooting a couple or a group, I use a narrower aperture to keep all the faces in focus.