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Essentials For Capturing Stunning Golden Hour Photographs

Long exposure photograph captured during golden hours

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.

Sunset photograph captured at golden hours

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.

Photographers setting their tripods to take long exposure photographs at sunset

Tripod

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.

golden hours photography

Shutter Remote

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.

Download Golden & Blue Hour App for Android

Download Golden & Blue Hour App for iOS

Dubai captured at golden hours

Related Article: Best Tricks for Shooting Stunning Long Exposure Photographs

About The Author Manuel Delgado:

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. 

Manuel Delgado Instagram Profile

The Basic Guide To Understanding Lens Filters

UV lens filter pointed to the flower inside grass

Have you ever been out photographing in the outdoors when another photographer turns up and starts screwing random filters onto their lenses, or slipping semi-transparent squares in front? UV filters, polarizing filters, neutral density filters, graduated ND filters, etc. What do all these filters do? How do you use them? And most frustratingly of all, "How come my photos don't look like that?"

Why using filters?

Filters help minimize glare and reflections, enhance colors, reduce the light coming into the lens, and more. Each lens filter serves a specific purpose, as each one is built to deliver a specific effect that can help enhance the final look of an image.

Neutral Density filters is widely used to capture long exposure photographs at day time

-To protect your lens

The most affordable types of lens filters are those that are clear and simply used for protection. These are great for protecting the front lens element during normal shooting situations, as the clear glass does not affect your images in any way. Protective lens filters eliminate the possibility of scratches, cracks, and dust accumulating on the surface of your lens.

-To correct or enhance colors

There are certain types of photography filters that can alter or boost the colors in your images. Some have the ability to correct the color temperature of a scene, while others can enhance color and contrast for a more vibrant image.

-To get an accurate exposure

When working with particularly difficult lighting conditions, filters are a great option for achieving even and accurate exposure across your entire image. They do this by blocking some of the light that enters the lens (in varying degrees). These are particularly helpful when shooting outdoors during the daytime, particularly when using fast shutter speeds may not be enough to avoid overexposure.

Person holding a yellow color filter at hand

Filter Types

-Square filters vs. Screw-on filters

Compared to screw on filters, the square filter consists of three parts. The filter, the filter holder, and the adapter ring. This means more things to look after and you can't use the filter system if you lose even one part of the kit. Square filters do not seal the front of the lens tight like a screw-on filter.

Circular filters, on the other hand, are a totally separate category. They're also called screw-on filters because unlike a square filter (which uses a filter holder), circular filters simply screw onto the end of the lens and onto each other.

-Polarizing filters

This type of filter will enhance an image in ways that cannot be achieved by any other method. As it's name suggests, a polarizer is a special type of filter that has the ability to block polarized (i.e. reflected) light - often seen as “glare”.

-Neutral Density (ND) filters

Unlike the polarizing filter which changes the way the image looks; ND filters aim to remain 'neutral' and simply reduce the overall amount of light coming through the lens. Like dark sunglasses for a camera, by reducing the amount of light coming through the lens, ND filters allow the photographer to purposefully compensate by slowing the shutter speed down and achieving motion blur effects, even in situations of bright light. When elements in the scene are moving, such as a waterfall, waves, clouds, or even people, a range of creative possibilities are opened up. For these-long exposure compositions, it is highly recommended to use a shutter remote control such as MIOPS´s options to guarantee a razor-sharp image.

a person holding a lens filter on his hand at night time

-Graduated ND Filters

“ND Grads”, as they are sometimes referred to, are ND filters that provide a gradually changing ND gradient across the glass plate i.e. a darker ND number at the top changing to clear glass at the bottom. They are always square or rectangular and therefore require a “square-system” mount. In today's world of digital post-processing, ND grads are far less common, but shouldn't be entirely overlooked.

-Color correcting filters

Color correcting filters, also known as cooling and warming, color conversion, or color compensating filters, are used to correct and/or enhance the color of your scene. Warming and cooling filters are great for correcting indoor lighting and making your scene look gloomier or sunnier while other colored filters are great for bringing out certain hues in a scene.

-Close-Up filters

Close-up filters (also known as macro filters or diopters) are used to enable macro photography without having to use a dedicated macro lens. Many photographers resort to purchasing these small pieces of glass than invest in more costly macro lenses, especially when they don’t necessarily have to take close-up shots all the time.

-Special effects filters

Special effects filters serve different purposes in improving your images. Perhaps the most popular type of special effects filters is the starburst filter, which effortlessly adds a noticeable twinkle to image highlights and light sources such as street lamps and Christmas lights.

Colorful Lens filters placed on top of each other

Related Article: Using ND Filter in Long Exposure Photography

About The Author Manuel Delgado:

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. 

Manuel Delgado Instagram Profile