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5 Tips to Improve Your Photography During the Golden Hour

5 Tips to Improve Your Photography During the Golden Hour

Any beginning photographer has probably been told to shoot during the golden hour at least a few dozen times on their first month of learning photography and that’s probably one of the most prudent advice you can get when you are starting out. During the golden hour photography in terms of lighting and the conditions of outdoor scenes become more pleasant in general because of the character and the quality of the light coming from the sun. That is why for any photographer, especially those who have not mastered the use of artificial lighting or light modifiers, shooting during the golden hour is the most advantageous aspect of planning your shoot.

This general point applies not only to photographers who shoot portraits but actually applies to any kind of photography regardless of the subject or genre. In fact, in photography that deals with subjects that are generally larger than the collective size of a few people in one frame, the implications of the time of day and weather condition to the quality of light makes or breaks the quality and aesthetic of the photographs. For photographing people and similarly sized objects, artificial light and modifiers are ultimately useful but for photographing landscapes, architecture, and any wide outdoor scene, time-of-day and quality of light are even more crucial. That is why planning and meticulous execution are crucial to being successful in shooting during the golden hour. To help you with that, here are 5 helpful golden hour photography tips. 

Sun Moon Expert Golden Hour Photography

1. Being Early Never Goes Wrong

One undeniably helpful approach is being significantly early at the location for a shoot. This allows you to plan your shot, including the composition, as you anticipate where your major light source will be in the frame and how the light will affect your subject or any other visual element you have in your photograph. For you to know when to start packing your gear and head on over to the location you simply have to know what time the sun will set from your location, and be at least an hour and a half early so that you have time to scout the location and plan your shot. The first 30 minutes should help you get a feel of the location without even having to shoot, and the remaining hour will be the golden hour that will give you the best light for the shot that you have in mind.

MIOPS Sun Moon Expert App Golden Hour Photography

The all-new MIOPS SunMoon Expert is equipped to give you detailed information about the schedule of significant sun and moon related changes during the day. This app gives you the exact time and duration of astronomical, nautical, and civil twilight, the blue hour, the golden hour, as well as the rising and setting of the sun. It also gives you a schedule of the phases of the moon that can definitely help you when shooting at night or when planning for an astrophotography trip. Using your smartphone’s camera and augmented reality, the SunMoon Expert can show you the exact location of the sun and the moon from where you currently are,  show you the path they will take as the earth rotates, and tell you the exact time that the sun or moon will be on a certain area and altitude. This means you can compose your image in anticipation of where the sun or the moon will be and what time you need to take the shot.

2. Direction of Light Dictates Depth and Detail 

In relation to knowing when the sun will rise or set, it is also important to know which direction the light will be coming from in relation to your subject and/or the background. This varies in general depending on what you’re shooting because it may be feasible to have your subject turn to a certain direction to match the direction of light. However, for photographs of places or anything larger, that would mean traveling to a different vantage point altogether and may not always be something possible to do. That is why it is important that in the stages of planning your shot, you are able to anticipate where the sun will be during your shoot, or alternatively, plan the time of your shoot so that the sun will be where you want it. Having the sun in frame definitely adds a lot of visual impact but also necessitates a bit more work in terms of lighting your subject properly to achieve a balanced exposure. On the other hand, having the sun casting light from the side of your subject can emphasize depth between layers of visual elements in frame.

MIOPS Sun Moon Expert App Golden Hour Photography - screenshot

The MIOPS SunMoon Expert app also features a map function that uses your GPS location to tell you where the sun (or the moon) is from the spot that you are standing. Alternatively, you can also plot a location on the app to be able to simulate the position of the sun even if you are not yet physically at the location. This is a great tool for landscape photographers and architectural photographers that will allow you to make sure that the light is hitting the side or face of the building that you wish to highlight, and at the same time infuse more sense of dimension as shadows are created on the other side. 

3. Harmonize Your Colors 

One of the reasons why photographers love the golden hour is precisely because of the warmer hues that are given off by the rising or setting sun. Aside from the relatively softer light, the colors of sunlight tend to be warmer than the rest of the day which is why the period is called the “golden hour”. One thing that many photographers tend to forget is to factor in this change in overall colors in terms of planning the colors that will be present in your photographs. By simply applying basic color theory in choosing the colors of certain objects in frame, most commonly the attire of models or other props, you can make sure that all colors in the photo blend well together through various color combinations such as complementary colors, analogous, triadic, etc. This is a process that should be considered in almost any kind of photography and the only difference that this necessitates is the warmer light that you get during the golden hour.

MIOPS Sun Moon Expert App

4. Dynamic Light Often Requires Balance

Because of the lower position of the sun in relation to how we perceive it during the golden hour, the light that it casts on our subjects may vary. When we have the sun in frame, this makes our subjects relatively much darker and may cause for the subject to be too dark to be seen, or the sun to be too bright and blown out. When the sun is hitting the subject from the side it can create a lot of shadows that may or may not be what you intend to have on the shot.

To achieve a more detailed and more balanced exposure, shooting bracketed exposures can be the easiest solution if your subject is relatively still or controlled. 

The MIOPS Flex camera remote trigger has various ways of assisting you in shooting quick and easy HDR images. The Flex is a mobile app controlled camera trigger that automates your bracket exposures for a much easier HDR shooting process. Beyond that, the MIOPS Flex also creates real-time previews of your HDR output to give you the assurance of the resulting image that you require. The device then saves this to its own micro SD storage which gives you an instant backup of your images as well. 

MIOPS Sun Moon Expert Golden Hour Photography

5. Witness the Light Change

The principle behind the value of shooting during the golden hour is the fact that it is the transition of light from night to day or day to night that gives us the more dynamic and more vibrant light. During these golden hours in each day, almost each minute has a different lighting scenario and overall luminosity than the previous one. This means that light will change continuously every minute and drastically depending on the weather condition and you need to be able to adapt to that change especially when the environment takes up a huge portion of what you are shooting. If you are shooting portraits or small objects you can adjust to how the light changes or embrace the change and use it to your advantage. For landscape and outdoor photographers this means adapting to that change and using the result as beneficial factors for your overall visual design. 

Another way that you can take advantage of these transition moments is shooting time-lapse. Time-lapse allows you to document and illustrate the changes in the environment that you can not show in a single still image and would take way too long to document on video. By shooting a time-lapse sequence you can compress all these changes that take a full hour into a couple of very dynamic minutes.

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The MIOPS Flex also features various tools that will help make your time-lapse photography easier and more efficient. This camera remote trigger has a collection of modes that make time-lapse shooting as easy as pressing a few buttons on your phone. The Holy Grail time-lapse mode even helps you adjust for changes in the light environment during sunrise or sunset without having to tinker with the settings along the way. For very dynamically lit situations, this camera remote trigger is also capable of automating the shooting process for HDR time-lapse shooting that can give much more detail and balance to the frames involved in your time-lapse clips. 

The golden hour is a nature’s daily gift to photographers. The warm vibrant colors from the dynamically changing light almost always assures you of impactful photographs. Experienced photographers always find ease and advantage from shooting during this opportune time and with these 5 golden hour photography tips, beginning photographers can also maximize the effect of the golden hour as they practice photography. With planning, anticipation, and adaptation to the changes of light, your images will certainly improve. 


Blog Credit: Nicco Valenzuela

Nicco started his photographic journey in 2007 practicing the craft as a hobby. Currently, he shoots for various local and international architectural firms and construction companies. Out of his love for sharing his knowledge, Nicco began writing about photography and various pieces of gear.