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.[blognewsletter]
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.
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.
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.
Any form of outdoor photography is heavily governed by the time of day and the quality of light that it provides. Whether for portrait photography, photographing wildlife, travel, or landscapes, certain times of the day provide more beneficial lighting than others. This is mainly because the intensity of light varies from the direction of the sun which in turn affects the quality of light that is cast on to every visual element in frame. Photography can be done at any time of the day but of course, there are times that are more beneficial to shoot.
The time of day affects many aspects of the light and the environment that have huge effects visually on the image. The quality of light affects depth, texture, as well as the hue of objects illuminated in the images which consequently affects the overall mood of an image. Softer light from certain times of the day leads to softer edges, more balanced luminosity, less reflections and glare, and smoother textures.
Under harsh daylight when the sun is casting light from a more direct angle, both the lights and the shadows are more intense. Shadows are also more condensed to a particular area and which means that distant details may lack depth and appear flat. At the same time, the quality, direction, and intensity of light causes one of the most important obstacles in outdoor and landscape photography, which is dynamic range.
Dynamic range is the spectrum of light that the camera’s sensor can record in one single image. In application, this is why backlit images leave a silhouette because the details on the darker parts of the image can not be recorded due to lack of luminosity. Different times of day and positions of the sun cause the intensity of light to vary making it harder for certain times of the day to capture outdoor images that are balanced in terms of luminosity and detail.
Landscape Photography During the Golden Hour
If you ask any landscape photographer, they would tell you that the golden hour is one of the most magical moments of any day no matter what location you are photographing. The golden hour gives a unique feel that enhances the ambiance of every location. This magic hour starts the moment the sun begins to cast warm light onto the sky before sunrise, or as the sun begins to set in the afternoon. During this time, the low and tangential direction of sunlight is more diffused by the particles in the atmosphere and the clouds that it casts a warmer and softer light than the rest of the day. During this time, it gives vibrant colors to the usual blue skies and enhances the contrast of the sky as the background to any landscape photograph.
When doing landscape photography, the golden hour is one of the best times to use exposure techniques. With the right visual effects in mind, long exposure techniques can refine and enhance your composition and visual design of any outdoor photograph. At this time, lighting is also more gentle and generally covers less dynamic range.
There are various ways to photograph landscapes during the golden hour. As the light gets more balanced between the sky and the foreground, single exposure images are easier to do. However, shooting with the sun in frame is a totally different game. With the bright sun in frame, your foreground elements become less luminous and less detailed.
The tricky part of landscape photography at sunset is capturing both the sky and the foreground that represents your location while keeping both extremes of luminosity detail and color rich. Most cameras can’t capture such in a single frame which is why exposure blending or HDR are often very handy approaches.
The goal of this approach is to capture multiple exposures with varying levels of brightness to get multiple images with the most detailed exposure for each part. The exposures are then combined later on into a blended image that uses the best exposed parts of each one. Whether you are doing long exposures with a moving foreground element or just quick exposures, it is best done with a good tripod.
The tripod’s role is to keep your multiple exposures aligned so that blending the exposures will be easier and sharpness of the images is maintained. While it is possible to be done manually by tweaking the settings after each shot, exposure bracketing sequences are best done with a good reliable trigger for camera control. This remote control can be the one to set the exposure values on the camera to program it to take consecutive exposures with different brightness in a stepwise manner. Using a good camera remote trigger makes the process quicker and more seamless so you can focus on the creative side.
The MIOPS Flex is an advanced camera remote trigger that was created to aid landscape photographers in many ways. One of the features of this smartphone camera remote control is an automated way to shoot in exposure bracketing and HDR. With your smartphone as the control panel, you can set the number of exposures, set the intervals between them, and trigger the exposures to start even from a distance.
On top of that, the MIOPS Flex is an even smarter device as it can give you a real-time preview of the HDR output just a few seconds after the exposures are taken, and saves the result on a separate built-in storage. This amazing tool allows you to shoot HDR and exposure blended images on-the-go no matter where you are shooting.
Landscape Photography During the Blue Hour
While the blue hour happens just right before or after the golden hour, the character and behavior of light is very different. The blue hour happens before sunrise when the distant indirect light of the sun begins to light up the sky and after sunset when the sun has dipped below the horizon but still gives off indirect light to the atmosphere. The blue hour has a different character altogether. For one, this is the time when the foreground is almost as bright as the sky and is therefore the easiest time to achieve a balanced exposure.
When photographing cityscapes, this window of opportunity is the perfect time to capture a relatively dim and highly detailed sky against a foreground of a city that is just beginning to turn on its lights. Even without post processing or HDR techniques, a 10-minute window within the blue hour would give a perfect balance between the sky and the foreground just before it gets dark.
The blue hour is the perfect time to shoot long exposures especially if you don’t have any neutral density filters to use. In a natural landscape setting, the relative dimness of the surroundings allows you to prolong exposures without having to cut any light which is perfect for shooting slow movement that will give smooth and serene surfaces to a moving sky or water surface. When shooting within the city, the blue hour is a great opportunity not just to capture movement of clouds or water but also to make use of dynamic vehicular traffic trails to enhance your visual design.
Without the need for an ND filter, one can do quick 3-8 second exposures just as the sunset ends. As time passes and as the environment gets darker, one can do even longer exposures to achieve any intended effect. This can be to smoothen any water surface with a current, to show dynamic movement of clouds, or to illustrate the flow of traffic.
To do long exposures during the blue hour, a sturdy tripod is a must. Any minor movement of the camera, even just from pressing the shutter button can blur your image and ultimately ruin your photograph. If you’re doing a 3-minute exposure, a fraction of a second of movement can render it absolutely useless no matter if it happens at the beginning or at the end of the shot. Filters are often unnecessary during the blue hour. Since the light is very minimal compared to daytime, there is no need to reduce light to be able to lengthen exposures. The luminosity of the sky is also closest to the ground so graduated neutral density filters aren’t generally used since most cameras can compensate for any difference if any during post processing.
Most cameras can only do a maximum of 30 seconds for each exposure. To shoot longer than that if your intended result requires it, the combination of using bulb mode and a camera remote trigger is the best way to go. The remote trigger should be able to set the camera’s shutter speed in bulb mode so it can keep the shutter open for as long as you intend.
As an added benefit, using a remote camera control will totally eliminate the chances of camera shake from pressing the shutter button. In this situation, the MIOPS Flex still proves to be an efficient tool. By controlling your camera with your smartphone, you can set your exposures to last for minutes or even hours without having to touch your camera. The timed release setting can give you shutter speeds that are precise down to milliseconds and can even trigger a delayed shutter release if needed.
Another capability of the MIOPS flex that are useful for both the golden hour and the blue hour, and generally any time of the day is it’s array of time-lapse shooting functions. Using the MIOPS Flex, you can set your exposure settings through the smartphone app, or even let your camera take care of the metering for each image, and designate the interval of exposures. At the same time, this intelligent camera remote tool is also capable of on-the-go time-lapse assembly and give you a quick preview of what your time-lapse would look like and even save it to its own built-in storage.
Landscape photography can be done any time of the day but these two moments of greater ambient light are definitely beneficial for more vibrant and more dynamic images.
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.
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There are no times of the day that is more famous for photography than “Golden Hour” — sunrise and sunset. Although great light can happen at any time, the edges of the day are perhaps the most consistent sources of inspiration you can find. Here are 4 must-haves that will make your workflow easier:
Neutral Density (ND) Filter
These are exceptionally handy for many scenarios, but they’re especially useful for sunrises and sunsets in giving you longer exposure opportunities when the sun is still producing a lot of light and your shutter speed can’t get quite low enough for a really long exposure.
These come in a variety of stops and types, such as your standard circular screw-on kind, or the square/rectangular kind, where you use a filter brace/holder on your lens.
6 stops is a good starting point for most. They’re a great in-between filter option in that it’s not too fast or slow for most situations. Having a 10-stop (or higher if needed) is useful for the times when you want to photograph a bit earlier before sunset and a little later after the sun has risen so that you’re able to have the flexibility of a long exposure during those times as well.
Circular Polarizer (CPL) Filter
Among a diverse selection of filters you can purchase on the market, these seem to have the most questions about what to use them for. These are excellent for managing reflections off of glass and water surfaces and enhancing results with the sky and clouds in your images.
The filter is manually rotated one way or another to varying degrees, to influence exposure to light levels. Adjusting light exposure reduces reflections, glare, and haze. This also boosts color saturation and contrast, making images appear richer, clearer, and more vivid.
Behind a camera body and lens, a tripod may be the next most important piece of photography equipment you can buy. Even if you have the steady hands of a surgeon, it's still not as good as the stability that a good, solid tripod can provide. And the more stable your camera, the sharper the photos that it can capture.
A professional landscape photographer, who is frequently out in the field and traveling the globe shooting in all weather conditions, should have a professional quality tripod. They rely on their photography, and on that tripod to a great extent, to provide a paycheck.
Don’t forget when you’re using a tripod to turn off your Image Stabilization. You might not realize it but with your camera, on a tripod, it’s still trying to correct motion even if there isn’t any unless you’re on a moving platform or pier and in that case having it enabled can improve your chances for a much sharper image.
Having a remote trigger such as MIOPS Smart+ is important to have in setting up for the perfect long exposure of a sunrise or sunset.
Most of the times, the maximum many cameras can go in-camera is 30 seconds, which works just fine, but if you’re wanting more dramatic looking images you would want to go longer. Adjust your timing for how extensive you want any kind of motion to be in your image to obtain your desired look.
Sunset photography can be a lot of fun to do. The nice thing is you don't have to travel far to do it. There is a sunset every day and it can be captured from virtually anywhere. Even in your own backyard. Not every day will have a great sunset, but many will.
To catch the Golden, Blue or Twilight hours of the day, you can download our Golden & Blue Hour app from your app store.
Related Article: Best Tricks for Shooting Stunning Long Exposure Photographs
Manuel Delgado is an award-winning photographer with a specialization in travel and documentary photography. He writes for Contrastly and is a Mentor for NGO Photographers Alliance, having led workshops in Africa with a focus on ethical and humanitarian photography. His work has been exhibited in Europe and the Americas.
Driven by an innate curiosity for his surroundings, Manuel´s process is mainly focused on capturing people in their natural environment; translating through his lens the subtle threads of daily life that are shared across cultures, borders, and races. Depicting people from diverse backgrounds, his work is united by a shared aesthetic that serves to tell each individual’s story. Manuel is currently living in Düsseldorf, Germany.
[faq q1="what is Circular Polarizer (CPL) Filter in photography?" a1="Among a diverse selection of filters you can purchase on the market, these seem to have the most questions about what to use them for. " q2="what is Neutral Density (ND) Filter in photography?" a2="These are exceptionally handy for many scenarios, but they’re especially useful for sunrises and sunsets in giving you longer exposure opportunities when the sun is still producing a lot of light and your shutter speed can’t get quite low enough for a really long exposure." q3="what does golden hour mean in photography?" a3="There are no times of the day that is more famous for photography than “Golden Hour” — sunrise and sunset."]