A Complete Golden Hour Photography Guide
Natural light is one of the most significant elements that allow outdoor photography to deliver some of the most stunning images we see today. Aside from being irreplaceable, natural lighting has effects that are hard to replicate in an indoor studio.
Additionally, this illumination from our sun is hard to control and can often be unpredictable. However, its unpredictability also gives us something to always look forward to whenever we press our camera’s shutter: uniqueness.
No outdoor photos are the same, thanks to the varying and unpredictable bands of light and how different objects reflect, retract, and react to their presence or absence. Photographers who have observed the characteristics know that just by understanding the behavior of natural light, they can use these qualities to their advantage.
Golden hour photography is a perfect example of how photographers master the characteristics of light and use its uniqueness to create a unique golden hour portfolio.
What is the Golden Hour?
During a specific time of the day, when the sun is at a particular position in the sky, its light scatters. Shorter wavelengths, such as violet, blue, and green, never reach the visible sky. What’s left are the longer bands of red, yellow, and orange. These colors are what we see during the golden hour, also known as the magic hour.
What is the Golden Hour in Photography?
Golden hour photography is the name of a photography genre that is taken specifically during the golden hour or the fleeting moment before sunset or after sunrise.
To be more specific, this golden moment can start roughly an hour before the sun rises from the east or sets from the west. However, its peak moment usually just lasts 15 minutes, when the light is at its reddest.
During the magic hour, sunlight is also at its softest since the sun is positioned low in the sky and there is no intense or direct light from this nearby star.
How is Golden Hour Different from Blue Hour?
If you have heard about Blue Hour and its relevant genre, Blue Hour Photography, you may have wondered: how are the two different?
How Gold and Blue Appears in the Sky
As mentioned earlier, the golden hour is characterized by warm and soft tones of red, orange, and yellow. On the other hand, the blue hour is when the shorter wavelengths of blue, violets, and green, finally reach the visible sky to give us this cold and deep palette.
When to Take Golden and Blue Hour Images
The blue hour arrives shortly after the golden hour. Like the latter, it will only last for a few minutes, so photographers make sure that they time their shoots well or miss the day’s beautiful hues.
What Moods and Feelings Each Period Represents
Lastly, golden hour’s warm palettes give out a warm, happy, nostalgic, and youthful energy. Blue hour’s cold and ambient colors exude a cool, quiet, melancholic, and dreamy atmosphere.
These meanings may change depending on how you compose your images and how you take advantage of the lighting, angle, and focus of your shots.
If you want to master shooting images of golden hour in photography, you’ll have to be familiar with the camera settings that professionals use. The following sections will help you set up your gear to the right adjustments.
What Camera Settings are Used During the Golden Hour?
When setting up the camera adjustments to shoot the golden hour, you have to keep in mind that you’re capturing warm light. Here are the camera settings and modes to keep in mind.
In other photography genres, white balance is one of the settings that photographers ignore. However, in this specific genre, you can set your white balance to Cloudy. Why?
Cloudy White Balance emphasizes the warm tones in your images. In case you miss this adjustment, post-processing software can still give you the same effect. However, it might not look and feel the same, especially if you compare the intensities of reds and oranges.
If you like customizing your settings, you can also choose within the range of 5600K to 6500K. This will give you the same effect but the range will allow you to achieve a unique intensity and color, depending on your preference.
When it comes to ISO for golden hour photography, we suggest setting it to the lowest possible adjustment. A low ISO ensures that your images won’t be ruined by unnecessary noise. It will also give you extremely sharp shots. However, if the golden hour is almost over and you observe a dramatic drop of light, you can bump it up.
To be more specific, you can start with an ISO of 100 and adjust it accordingly.
Aperture and Shutter Speed
The aperture and shutter speed settings for the golden hour will depend on how you want to manipulate light in your image. Photographers who are after bokeh or out-of-focus points of light use an f/2.8 of aperture. If you want your images to stay sharp for both foreground and background, then the aperture setting of f/14 is the most ideal.
Your shutter speed should play within the range of 1/250 to 1/500 to make sure that you get enough light for your shots. Anything beyond this range may lead to overexposed images.
Remember these general settings when preparing for a golden hour photoshoot. Remember, you only have a small window before the sky turns blue. Preset your camera functions and moods before heading out. Once you’re in the location, do some test shots and make the necessary adjustments.
Now that you know your camera settings, it's time to understand the characteristics of light through the different lighting techniques that you can use.
What Lighting Techniques Can You Use for Capturing Golden Photos?
What is golden hour in photography and how does one become an expert in this genre? The answer lies in how you can practise the following techniques: silhouette, backlight, front light, rim light, and sun flare.
Let’s see how these techniques can enhance your golden hour images.
The silhouette technique is probably one of the most popular golden hour photos that you can see online. In definition, a silhouette is a solid profile image of your subject against an overpowering, bright background.
You can achieve it by placing the main light source, in this case, the setting or rising sun, behind your subject. The result is a crisp dark rendering of your subject and a beautiful contrasting background of the orange sky.
While the backlight lighting technique almost follows the same positioning as a silhouette, it delivers a different effect. Even if the sun is behind the subject, the resulting images present more visible details and light in front.
The backlight effect delivers a heavenly and youthful glow, thanks to the soft and hazy way the light interacts with the subject.
From its name, the front-light lighting technique positions your subject in front of the sun.
In portrait photography, for instance, facing the light source allows the subject to absorb and reflect the full intensity of the red, orange, and yellow tones. The effect of front lighting is a warm and beautiful shot that focuses on the subject’s features.
Rim or Edge Light
The rim lighting technique is a common photography technique often used in indoor studios. However, since the process involves a bright light source to create a glowing effect on your subject’s edges, it can be replicated with the sun as the main source of light.
The main purpose of the rim or edge lighting is to highlight your subject’s main contour. During a golden hour photo shoot using this technique, your images can evoke a mysterious or dramatic mode.
Finally, the final and most favorite golden hour lighting technique most photographers use is the sun flare. This is possible when you point your lens towards the direction of a strong light source, in this case, the rising or setting sun.
What you’ll do is to ask your subject to stand behind the sun. They should partially cover this light source and allow you to angle your camera properly. You’ll know if you get the right angle if the light hits your lens, scatters across its glass, and creates the famous flare effect.
Golden Hour Time Lapse
Aside from golden hour still images, you can also capture the entire golden period using a timelapse technique. This will allow you to capture the slow but mesmerizing process when the sun appears and disappears from the horizon. The technique will also let you observe the changing patterns, colors, and movements in the post-dawn and pre-dusk skies.
Taking time lapse videos is one of the most fascinating golden hour photography tips that you can try as a beginner. It will make you fall in love with the genre even more! However, keep in mind that this can also be the most challenging one.
Golden hour presents the challenge of rapidly changing levels and intensities of light. It means that you’ll have to continuously adjust your camera’s ISO, exposure, and aperture settings to keep up with the dramatic adjustments. Most of the time, your camera’s automatic mode is too slow to keep up with these fast and unpredictable changes.
This is where MIOPS’s devices come in.
Using MIOPS Devices in Golden Hour Photography
MIOPS Smart+ and MIOPS FLEX are intuitive wireless camera triggers that have a dedicated Time Lapse Mode to shoot time lapse videos and long exposure shots for challenging scenes like the Golden Hour.
Meet FLEX, a smart camera gadget for creative photography.
The ever-changing lighting conditions during the golden hour may pose a challenge to manual camera users. However, through MIOPS and its Holy Grail settings, your camera can easily respond to ambient light changes.
Take impossible photos by turning your camera into a high-speed capture device!
Take impossible photos by turning your camera into a high-speed capture device!
What MIOPS does, through the Holy Grail and its Timelapse Mode, is to automatically adjust your camera’s exposure settings and other relevant settings in real-time, to instantly respond even to the slightest change in lighting conditions. These sensitive adjustments can give you a smooth and flawless transition, during the start, peak, and end of the golden hour.
MIOPS FLEX and MIOPS Smart+ are both intuitive and easy to use. They can be connected to your smartphone. From your mobile phone, you can access your camera’s settings as well as MIOPS features. Most importantly, you can control and adjust both devices' settings through their dedicated mobile app. What a convenience!
After understanding what is the golden hour in photography concept, the camera settings to use, and the light techniques to try, we can now go to the final part of this complete golden hour guide: the essential tips to finally get you started in this beautiful genre.
What are the Essential Tips for Capturing the Best Moments of the Golden Hour?
For the final part of our golden hour photography tips, we have some essential advice that beginners and advanced photographers should remember. Here they are.
Look for golden hour inspiration.
Before you plan for your golden hour photoshoot, make sure that you have a clear understanding of your goals. For starters, ask yourself: what kind of images do you want to produce? Are they going to be portraits of people or animals? Are you going to focus on the landscape and just capture what nature can offer?
You can look for golden hour photography inspirations online. Check out other photographers’ portfolios and see what makes these images unique. Observe how they composed their shots, what lighting techniques they used, and what sort of atmosphere or feelings these techniques created.
Decide on your photoshoot location.
When you finally have an idea about the type of shot you want, it’s time to decide on your location. If it’s somewhere nearby, you can go to the location, scout it, and draft a map. Find the best compositions that will fit the message that you want your images to convey.
Look for creative opportunities, such as the view of the skyline and the horizon. Mapping out the setting will also help you think of unique poses and angles for your shots. Most importantly, visiting the venue beforehand can help you anticipate challenges and potential problems.
Always, always shoot RAW.
Last and the most important advice of all is to shoot in RAW. This will give you the freedom to post-process your golden hour images and enhance them. RAW images can also give you more detail and give more room for adjustments.
So there you have it, your complete golden hour photography guide that will give you a good foundation to master this genre in no time. Hopefully, you can try the techniques and tips we mentioned here.
Most importantly, we hope that these basics can inspire you to think of one-of-a-kind images that will boost your personal and professional portfolio.
Aside from golden hour photography, you can also get started on other challenging photography genres, such as high speed photography. Like how MIOPS devices can help you up your game in the golden hour, their camera devices can also introduce you to other amazing creative ventures. Check out more of MIOPS camera equipment today to find out how!
Blog Credit: Charm Villalon
Charm is a writer and a visual artist. Her drive to share ideas and stories is evident in her background in communication arts and language studies. Years of professional experience in content creation have given her a broad proficiency with the process of engaging online communities. An appreciation for multiple languages and cultures drives her to seek out experiences and capture these moments through her writing, digital art, and photography.