Golden hour, called the magical hour by some, is the hour after sunrise or before sunset. The sun is low in the sky and it casts soft light with a reddish tone. The warm diffused light of golden hour can allow you to take stunning portraits.
I captured this portrait of my daughter during golden hour. Look at the shadow from the tulip and you will notice that she was facing almost directly into the sun. At any other time of day she would be blinded by the sun and harsh shadows would make the picture unappealing, but during the golden hour the soft and gentle light illuminates her face without washing her out.
Here are some tips for taking golden hour photos:
- Plan Ahead: Golden hour changes everyday occurring later or earlier depending on the season. If you use a smartphone, often weather apps will tell you exactly when sunrise and sunset will occur at your location. You can also look online to find times for sunset and sunrise.
- Be Quick: It’s called golden hour, but you don’t really have an hour. The closer you get to sunset the less light you will have available. Light changes quickly as the sun sets, so be ready to start shooting when the light is right and then keep shooting as long as you can.
- Check Your White Balance: The auto white balance setting on your camera may cause the camera to compensate for some of the reddish tone of the light costing you some of the warmth of golden hour. Try setting the white balance to cloudy if auto is not producing the colors you desire.
- Watch the Shadows: Golden hour produces long shadows. You may want to use these to add interest to your photo. Notice how the shadows are falling and consider whether you want to capture them as part of the photograph.
- Open the Aperture or Use a Tripod: Golden hour offers less light than full sun. You want to avoid a shutter speed slow enough to cause camera shake. One way to raise the shutter speed is by selecting a larger aperture allowing more light to pass through the lens to the sensor. If you are photographing people it’s best to use at least 1/90th of a second to avoid blur cause either by a moving subject or by camera shake. If you are photographing an inanimate object, then you may want to consider a tripod so you can use smaller apertures and slower shutter speeds without burring the photograph.