There is a magical hour, a time when the light from the sun shines on the Earth from the side. During this hour, light is warm, soft, and perfect for taking pictures. If the light hits the clouds in the sky at just the right angle, they give off a purplish color that accents a scene in ways nothing else can. To start taking better pictures now, you need to get the most out of the Golden Hour. Here are a few ideas.
Watch the below video where I explain how to take perfect shots during the Golden Hour, or keep reading below for a text version.
You get two chances each day. There’s a golden hour during the sunrise and another at sunset. The sunrise hour is for go-getters who have to get to work right away, and the sunset hour is for those who are more like me and enjoy sleeping in. Either way, if you get out during one of these hours every day for a month, I can practically guarantee that you’ll take more than a few interesting pictures.
And that’s really the whole point of this article. Get out at sunrise and sunset as much as you can. Yes, the other hours of the day are good for taking pictures too, but the most dramatic and colorful pictures happen during the golden two hours. As a photographer, I plan my day around them. If I’m at a new shooting location, I make sure we do one session early in the morning and another as the sun is going down.
Planning is essential. Because the golden hour is, well, only an hour, you need to make sure you’re all setup by the time the light gets interesting. You don’t want to be driving to the shooting location or fiddling with memory cards and lenses while your window gets shorter and shorter. Have a plan for the shot. See it in your mind’s eye before you show up, and the golden hour won’t pass you by.
Literally take everything into account. Think of it like it’s a job interview. Be 15 minutes early (great for eating breakfast). If you have to hike somewhere, factor it in. If you need to setup your tripod, that’s another 10 minutes. It all counts.
The light during the golden hour isn’t nearly as strong as the light during the middle of the day. That’s a good thing, but it also means you need to bring a tripod for landscape shots. Why is that? In order to get the sharpness and detail for a landscape shot, you need to use an aperture with a big f-number (say F22). Doing so causes your camera to let in less light, meaning it will be more susceptible to the blurring that results from camera shake.
A tripod will keep your camera still for the shot, adding extra contrast and sharpness to all of your images.
The golden two hours are a great time to experiment with silhouettes. Just find an object that sits in front of the sun and set your exposure to capture the warm colors in the sky. You’ll get a black form set against an incredibly colorful backdrop, just like the image above.
Here’s a quick reference. Whenever I’m doing a silhouette, I set my aperture to F8, and then I point my camera to the sky to take the light reading. In most cases, I end up picking a shutter speed between 1/100 second and 1/250 second, depending on how much light is available and which colors I want to capture. During this time, I’m usually looking at my LCD to see how the images are turning out. If it needs to be brighter or darker, I adjust the shutter speed while keeping the aperture constant.
Being a good photographer isn’t always about technique. Sometimes it’s about being at the right place at the right time. The right time is the Golden Hour. So go on, get out there and take as many pictures during the golden hour as you can. You’re bound to stumble on something amazing!