A Quick Tip: Using the Golden Hour

Today we have a quick tip on photographing during the golden hour from the wonderful guide Understanding Light.

green grass field
Photo by Petr Vyšohlíd

The burdens of big dreams can often be crushing. Remember when you first started as a photographer? I do. I remember taking every single frustration to heart and every setback was just another piece of evidence that I wasn’t cut out for it. I kept looking at my photographs and thinking that they lacked something but I couldn’t quite put it into words. Call it a spark. Call it a style. Call it magic. Whatever it was, I wasn’t getting it and what I was creating wasn’t even satisfying me, let alone giving me the confidence to show it off to an audience. 

Again, just a beginner, I didn’t realize how much work and skill it took to get photographs bursting with life and color. Maybe I was too archival about it all, simply documenting what my eyes saw instead of giving it new life with my own lens. I have to chuckle because, looking back, some of those early shots were so dull and lifeless that I could have made an erupting volcano look, pedestrian. 

Needless to say, I wanted a change. 

silhouette photo of person on boat
Photo by Johannes Plenio

I knew there was a missing element, some essential ingredient to the secret sauce and I needed to figure out what it was. Knowing your problem is often half the battle, and the other half was figuring out how to contextualize that within the language of photography. 

As luck would have it, one of my mentors clued me into what was missing: I didn’t know how to use light and definitely not to my advantage!

I soon learned that this is actually a familiar tale of woe. Mastering light is something that takes time and practice. Yet having some knowledge of how light works will help you along that path.

One thing to always keep in mind is that light’s behavior is impacted by a variety of factors. 

Don't worry – we've got you covered with three little words…The Golden Hour. If you haven’t taken advantage of this before, here’s a great place to start learning about light and how it impacts your images. 

bicycle park near buildings
Photo by Davide Pietralunga

What is the Golden Hour? 

In very informal terms, the golden hour is simply the first hour of light after sunrise and the last hour of light before sunset. Of course, when exactly this occurs and how long the golden hour lasts, will depend on where you live and will vary with the seasons. 

It’s that time of day, where everything looks fantastic The light is warm and soft, it is flattering to every skin tone and harsh shadows are not a concern. 

waves crashing on rocky coast during sunset
Photo by Sean Pierce

How do I photograph during the Golden Hour?

Here are some helpful tips for shooting the golden hour:

  • Use a tripod as the light is low
  • Shoot RAW
  • Use lower ISO and slower shutter speeds as the sun goes down
  • Use an aperture between f/7 and f/16 for landscapes

Of course, this is a rough guide – experiment with your settings to get the image you want. Next time you’re out, consider how the light is behaving and how it will impact your image. From shadows to highlights and contrasts, every element counts when it comes to creating the photograph you want.

To take your golden hour shots to the next level you'll need to understand light. Understanding Light is an amazing training guide to light by Kent DuFault. It will teach you how to understand light, use it and capture images that will really pop. Start your journey here