The best time for portraits or location photos.
Well it depends, but most of the photographers will choose to shoot during golden hour. It’s true we can find ways to get incredible photos at any time, but there are certain times that photographers prefer when shooting outdoors. Whether you enjoy shooting portraits, landscapes or anything in-between, it’s as important to consider when to shoot as it is to choose where to shoot.
Golden hour is known among all photographers because of the light quality and endless possibilities to capture creative pictures. The warm yellow light allows you to capture anything in the lens that is in the air. You can get the best shadow and silhouettes at this time of the day.
The first hour of light just after dawn and the last hour of light just before sunset is known as the Golden Hour. This window of golden hour time in the morning and evening, when the sun is at a low angle, provides photographers with a magical quality of light that makes their photos pop.
For golden hour photography, you don’t have a lot of time. The conditions change quickly as the sun rises and falls. If you’re shooting portraits, formulate a plan ahead of time in order to get the most out of your limited window of opportunity. Otherwise, you might just miss your chance and lose the sun.
Golden Hour Characteristics
How do you find the golden hour? There are three key features of the golden hour, all of which combine to create amazing photographic conditions.
- Warm colors: sunlight is in the orange and yellow range of the color spectrum during the golden hour, which is why it’s called that.
- Low angle of the sun: this is what defines the golden hour. A low angle creates softer light and longer shadows.
- Diffused light: when the sun is close to the horizon, light has to travel further than when it’s high in the sky. The atmosphere acts like a light diffuser, which makes the light less intense and ‘softer’. It reduces harsh contrast, which makes it easier to capture an evenly exposed image. It also filters out blue light to give mainly warm colors.
- It’s Directional: The position of the sun also allows you to get great side lit or backlit shots.
Front lighting with the golden hour
Illuminate your subject from the front, and the sun does most of the work for you. Because the golden hour provides even light, it is incredibly flattering and allows your camera to capture rich details.
With the sun low in the sky, shadows also elongate across the ground. Try to include these in your compositions as they add depth and a nice three-dimensional effect.
Remember: the sun is either rising or sinking during the golden hour. In response, the light will shift quickly and dramatically. If you aren’t seeing the shots you want, waiting a few minutes or adjusting your location can reveal them.
Backlighting with the golden hour
Backlight won’t exhibit your subject the same way front light will. Even so, it’s worth experimenting with putting the sun behind them. It can create some awesome effects. Here are few to try:
- Flare lighting. You get a lens flare when the sun’s light streams directly into your lens. Depending on the angle, it can appear as a brilliant haze or starbursts. These can give your subject a halo effect or add a fantastical element to a nature shot.
- Rim lighting. Rim lighting is when the back light outlines the subject with a thin line of light, separating it from the background. It can be difficult to get the angle, but it adds a suggestive, minimalist quality to the photo.
- Silhouette. When the sun is just right, everything becomes a shadow against a gleaming backdrop. The sun cuts your subjects out of the scene but leaves all the little details. Great for profiles.
- Shadows. Just like with front light, long shadows add a depth and dimension. Try to find ways to use them in your backlit compositions, too.
Keep clicking and keep moving
Take multiple shots because the sun is moving. The light direction changes every minute. If you keep clicking, then you might explore something new and can get an incredible picture.
In the same way, moving constantly is also essential. You might get shadows in some pictures. You might get sun flares. Remember, the picture you are taking depends upon the angle of the lens, the direction of the light, and the subject’s position.
Camera settings for Golden Hours
Even when shooting in RAW, where it’s extremely easy to adjust white balance in post, it’s a good idea to choose a manual setting for your white balance so that you have a better idea of what the scene is meant to look like when reviewing. A good starting point for beginners is setting it to “shade” or “cloudy” to get those gorgeous golden hues.
- Shoot in manual mode, as it lets you take full advantage of back lighting and exposure.
- Opt for a wide aperture when shooting portraits. Open it up to f/5.6 to get your subject in focus while their skin will glow beautifully in the natural light.
- Consider trying Aperture Priority mode. This way, you won’t have to worry about other settings like ISO and shutter speed. As the sun goes down, you’ll probably want to increase the ISO. For landscapes, it’s usually best to keep ISO low.
- Ideally, you should use spot metering, as it will help you set the exposure for your main subject rather than the whole scene.
- Adjust the exposure as needed, depending on your composition and the type of lighting you’ve chosen. Read on for how to use golden hour lighting in different ways!
Shooting during the golden hour can be inconvenient; you may have to sacrifice your cozy bed to shoot early or unglued yourself from your regular spot on the sofa to shoot in the evening. But you will be dearly rewarded, as the impact of shooting at these magical times of day can be truly transformative. Get out there and try it for yourself. Prepare to be amazed.