Professional photographers swear by the perfect light of the “Golden Hour,” that short period of about an hour right after sunrise and an hour right before sunset when the sun is low in the sky and offers a soft, diffused light.
Golden Hour the ‘Magic Hour’
Photographers love this time of day as it creates a naturally diffuse, pinkish light that is excellent for shooting portraits and weddings with virtually no extra gear required.
The golden hour offers the photographer creative control and provides great lighting for shooting just about anything and everything out-of-doors, from landscapes and city scenes to outdoor portraits and fashion shoots. Also, fewer people are typically out around dawn and dusk, so you can capture your image with fewer background distractions.
Use the lighting to your advantage by keeping these points in mind:
Use this lighting to your advantage. There are five creative lighting elements you can use to create striking images during this enchanting time of day:
- Front lighting: Just as the name implies, front lighting involves facing your subject into the sun, so they are bathed in the warm, flattering light.
- Backlighting: Backlighting is the opposite of front lighting in that you have your subject pose with their backs to the sun, which will surround them in a soft, warm glow. Consider using a reflector or fill flash to keep your models from looking too dark.
- Rim lighting: This is similar to backlighting but shot against a dark background, achieving a soft glow around the edges of your subject.
- Flare: Flare occurs when the sun hits your lens directly. Typically, you want to avoid flare, but during the golden hour, sun flare can add visual appeal to your images.
- Silhouette: Because the sun is low in the sky, silhouettes are best shot during the golden hour or the blue hour. Position your subject in front of a brightly lit background to achieve this effect.
Planning your shoot
Always plan in advance – the Golden Hour will only occur on days where the sun isn’t covered by clouds. Proper planning can help ensure you’re not stuck shooting in overcast conditions.
You should consider using a weather app to better forecast potentially better days for outdoor photography. The two apps I use the most are WeatherUnderground and Dark Sky. A third weather app that I sometimes use is weather.com. If there are other apps you would recommend, please let me know in the comments.
Over the years, even though I live in Hawaii, I watch the weather every single day. If I would choose one app over the other, Weather Underground/Wunderground would be my recommendation. You can download the apps from the app store for android or Apple.
Blue Hour Photography
What if you can’t shoot at golden hour. Don’t be concerned that your photos are going to be sub-par because you can’t make that golden hour lighting work. There are other options — the Blue Hour in particular is a popular option amongst photographers.
The blue hour is that time of day is right after the sun has set and right before it rises, i.e. dusk and dawn. It doesn’t give your pics that same golden hue but, for some photos, maybe you would prefer a bluer tint in your pics rather than that golden light.
The blue hour is known for helping give photographs a tranquil, peaceful, and relaxing vibe. Blue hour might not share the same popularity that golden hour does but sometimes it pays to step away from the majority and make your pictures stand out.
If you are someone who enjoys shooting cityscapes, Blue Hour is ideally suited for this style of photography.
Photograph During Mid-Day Harsh Sunlight
Many photographers go home after golden hour and don’t go back out shooting until evening golden hour.
But there will be times when you just don’t have the option to time your photographs during the golden hour. In these cases, you need to learn to make the best of the lighting you have, whatever comes your way.
By Mark Delong