A photographer’s biggest concern during any photo shoot is the lighting. When we talk about natural lighting, there’s no better time of the day to shoot than the golden hour. It is no secret that the golden hour produces some of the most magical shots. During the golden hour, lighting is one less thing to worry about.
Understanding how to work with this type of lighting is therefore crucial If you’d like to produce these dreamy and magical images, and catch the special hour, we have a handy guide to help you create those powerful images.
Surely, you’ve taken pictures or seen the ones taken during the golden hour. They’re characterized by a very soft glow and a golden hue, giving photographs a dreamlike quality. It’s the perfect lighting condition for landscape photography, portraits, still life and any other photo shoot. All you need is a few insider tips to help make the most of the golden hour.
A little bit about the golden hour
The golden hour is the first hour of light after the sun rises and the last hour of light before the sun sets. The light is softer and redder when the sky is at these vantage points. It is not to be mistaken with the magic hour in cinematography which is the time before the sunrise and after the sunset.
What makes the golden hour so special?
If you’ve observed this special time of the day, you understand the merits. When the sun is so low in the sky during the morning and evening, the lighting becomes diffused and generally appears softer. Images acquire a golden glow, and you don’t see any harsh shadows in photographs. It’s also a great time of the day for capturing dramatic shadows and bringing out textures in objects.
What should you shoot during the golden hour?
Anything! If you manage to catch the sun during these hours of the day, any subject or object you choose will be beautifully illuminated. In fact, you should experiment with different types of photography; shoot landscapes, portraits, cityscapes, still life and even macro.
You’re not limited to just the outdoors. It’s a great time to photograph indoors with natural light from the windows. Let some of the magic through your windows and you’ll find that your subjects will transform by some of the magical rays.
Quick tips for shooting during the golden hour
1. Come prepared
Prepare in advance for this kind of photoshoot. The small golden hour timeframe really limits your session time. If you plan ahead, you’re setting yourself up for a more efficient photo shoot. Know where you’re going and what you will be shooting. You can calculate the perfect time by using a golden hour calculator.
2. Start with front light
Starting with the simplest one, have your subject face the direction of the sunlight. If you’re shooting portraits, there’s no better time to photograph people. The golden hour is soft so people don’t have to squint at the sun.
In this example, you can see that the light is not as harsh as during the day. The fields acquire a soft glow and the subjects are illuminated beautifully even though they’re facing the sunlight directly.
3. Experiment with backlighting
Try placing your subjects between yourself and the sun to get really interesting backlighting. The glowing effect around your objects or subjects creates the ultimate dreamy portrait photo shoot set up. Focus on something in the foreground to keep the light from flooding the lens. You have a lot of room to experiment here with angles and different effects.
Just the opposite of shooting with your subjects facing the light creates these long shadows which adds interest to the shot. Notice the lovely glow of something as plain as dust. It acquires the same soft golden glow as the rest of the background.
3. Capture those long shadows
When the sun is low in the sky, it produces really long and beautiful shadows. This is a unique opportunity to add visual interest to your shots, capturing the shadows of trees, buildings and the people in the shots. It’s a great addition to your composition whatever you’re shooting during these hours.
In this shot in particular, the blue sky is still visible and creates a beautiful contrast to the bottom half of the photograph that has a golden glow. The shadows of the tree and the rays of light create an interesting focal point in the foreground.
4. Don’t forget rim lighting
When you focus on a subject with the sun behind them, you get beautiful rim lighting. Focusing your camera this way will reveal a rim of light, outlining them in a soft glow. This separates your subject from the background which adds extra emphasis and makes your subject or object really stand out from the background.
In this photograph, the photographer managed to capture a haze as well as rim lighting. You can see the outline of the artist clearly against a faint background. If the camera angle was adjusted slightly, there would be less flooding of the light and an even more dramatic outline of the subject.
5. Try the haze effect
An interesting effect to experiment with is a haze. When you experiment with the amount of sunlight that hits your lens, you will either get a sun flare, which we’ll talk about next, or you get an interesting haze effect. Capturing haze is really up to each individual photographer. If you allow too much sunlight to hit your lens, you’ll lose focus on your subjects but through experimentation, you can use it to add interest to portraits.
Don’t confuse haze with bokeh. In this shot, you can clearly see that the lighting was controlled in a way to let enough in to create the haze effect and give the shot a filter-like effect.
6. Sun flares make everything magical
A sun flare happens when light hits your lens and gives you those specks of light. To make the most of this effect, adjust yourself in accordance to the direction of the light and play around with how much light enters your lens. Because the light is softer, the lens flares are much more artistic during the golden hour. What’s interesting about this effect is that you’ll never get the same results through experimentation. Play around, have a little bit of fun.
In this otherwise plain photograph, the sun flares add another dimension to the photograph. Additionally, flares give photographs filter-like effects, diffusing the light further.
7. The ideal time for silhouettes
There’s no better time of the day to photograph silhouettes than the golden hour. When you place your subjects in front of the sun and shoot in the same direction, they stand out and the results are a visually striking photograph. Silhouettes add drama to your photographs so try experimenting with where you place your objects or subjects.
This dramatic photograph was likely taken slightly after the golden hour but nevertheless, the colors of the sky and the beautiful color blocking with the silhouettes makes it a memorable image.
8. Bokeh experiments
Don’t get hung up on portraits, the golden hour makes anything magical. For instance, plants and still life come to life and often look like they’re surrounded by gold specks when you face the sun and let the light flood your lens. To achieve the bokeh effect, simply shoot with a wide aperture. The golden hour highlights whatever is in the air so drops of water, and other floating objects will look like golden specks in your photographs.
This is a great example of how mist and other objects in the air can bring something truly magical to a photograph at the right time of the day.
Your photographs truly transform during the golden hour. Make the most out of those early hours of the morning or the time before sunset to photograph as you usually would. Without too much effort, your images will take on a very dreamy and surreal quality. Remember that your time is limited, so do plan ahead to catch the golden hour in your town.
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