How to Get the Most Out of the Golden Hour

Want to capture amazing light in your photographs? Wondering why your images seem to lack the same oomph and power of other shots you’ve seen? You need to seek out the golden hour.

golden hour photography, golden hour, sunset, Jordan, Wadi Rum, desert, landscape
Photos via Boost Your Photography

What is the golden hour?

The golden hour refers to the golden tones that light gets when the sun is low in the sky. Golden hour light is sought after by photographers for its reduced intensity and more diffused appearance. As the sun is filtered through more of the atmosphere, it becomes more even and reduces contrast, which can be very pleasing in many types of photographs.

golden hour photography, golden hour, architecture, building, sunset, lighting

The golden hour is considered by many photographers as the ideal time for photography. The long shadows created by the low sun add interest and depth of landscapes. Golden tones are very pleasing in landscape shots and can add interest and warmth to urban or architecture images as well. Many outdoor portrait photographers only schedule their shoots during the golden hour.

Timing of the golden hour

In the morning, the golden hour begins right after sunrise, while the evening golden hour ends at sunset. There are many websites and apps that can tell you the exact timing of sunrise and sunset. Some will also give you an approximate time for the golden hour. The golden hour is not an exact hour, as the precise timing varies depending on the time of year and your location, but an hour is a good approximation.

golden hour photography, golden hour, Tyn Church, Prague, Czech Republic, lighting, compare lighting

These two photographs of the Tyn Church in Prague, Czech Republic were shot during different times of the day. The left-hand version was shot during the middle of the day, while the right-hand version was shot during the golden hour before sunset.

Tips for shooting during the golden hour

1. Look behind you

Many photographers miss opportunities to make the most of golden hour lighting, because we are so often enamored by the sun itself during sunrise or sunset. Often times, the best golden hour shots will be behind you. Try turning your back on the sun every once in a while and follow the light instead. Experiment by moving yourself or your subject relative to the sun to see how the different angles affect the lighting and the final look. Image

2. Try backlighting

Golden hour sunlight also works extremely well for shooting backlit portraits and photographs. Position your subject between your camera and the sun. Avoid having the sun shining directly into your camera. Sunlight from behind will create rim lighting, a golden glow that is especially visible around blowing hair. Set your exposure using your subject as a guide, as the brighter background might trick your sensor into underexposing your subject. Some photographers use fill-flash to add a little more light back onto the subject to help balance the exposure.

3. Accentuate the golden hour with white balance

You can further heighten the golden tones and colors of the golden hour by adjusting your white balance. The shade white balance setting is meant to compensate for the bluer tones of light photographed in the shade, but it can also be used to bring out the golden tones in your photograph.

golden hour photography, golden hour, photography, white balance, cloudy white balance, shade white balance

Try shooting with the shade or cloudy white balance setting during the golden hour to maximize the golden colors. Better yet, shoot in RAW, and you can adjust the white balance as you see fit during post-processing.

How do you make the most of golden hour light? Share your thoughts or a link to an image in the comments below!

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