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Golden Hour Photography

In the world of photography, one of the many phrases you will hear get tossed around a lot is “the golden hour.” The golden hour refers to the hour just after sunrise and just before sunset. This time of day is ideal, especially for natural light photographers, for capturing stunning images. 

Why Shoot During The Golden Hour?

You can certainly get great images any time of day. However, shooting midday in the harsh sun can be rather challenging, especially if there is no overcast of clouds to diffuse the light. Not only that, the sun beaming down from directly above can be difficult on the eyes. This can cause your clients to unintentionally squint, especially young children. 

During the golden hour, the sun sits lower in the sky, hitting your subject(s) and the surroundings at an angle. The sun (light) is much less harsh at this time and the light is spread out more evenly. 

The light produced from the sun during the golden hour is much “warmer” color-wise. It is very flattering to your subject’s skin tone and shadows are much softer (and longer). 

Timing Matters

The window of time you have during the golden hour is limited. This is important when planning a session. Both you and your clients need to make sure you show up on time to take advantage of the light. If shooting an hour before sunset, once the sun sets, it’s gone. So you need to allow ample time to soak up every minute you can get. 

The golden hour time frame varies from season to season. It also changes when time changes occur. So just because the golden hour begins around 6 p.m. during the spring doesn’t mean it will be that time during the fall. 

Watch the news or do an internet search to find out when the sun is scheduled to rise and set. And just pay attention to your outside surroundings daily to get an idea of the best time to take advantage of the golden hour. 

Another thing to keep in mind is the weather. If the sky is heavily overcast during the golden hour, you will have even less light to work with. So if possible, start a little earlier than usual. 

Where To Place Your Subjects

There are several ways you can place your subjects to light them with the warm sun. 

The sun isn’t harsh during this time of day, so you can have your subject facing the sun (with the sun behind you) without having to worry about squinty eyes. 

You can also place your subject with their back to the sun to get beautiful warm back-lighting. Many photographers use a reflector or fill-flash to help bring a little more light to faces in this situation to bring back some of the details and avoid shadows. However, using the sun as backlighting without using any extra fill-light can work great on it’s on. 

When shooting into the sun, your lens can create “sun-flare”, which is just rainbow-colored spots on your images. These can give a unique touch to your photos, however you can avoid them by using a lens filter. 

Camera Settings

Your camera settings will vary according to location and time. In fact, as the sun sets (or rises) you may need to adjust your settings several times. As the sun goes down you will have less light to work every minute that passes. So your ISO may need to be increased a little at a time. 

In Summary

The golden hour can be a very magical time of day to get beautiful images. If you prepare and time things just right, you will have a gorgeous warm soft light to work with. The light is flattering to your subjects and surroundings this time of day. 

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