In photography the “Golden Hour”, is also known as the “Magic Hour.” And for good reason – with its vibrant reds, oranges and pinks the hour before sunrise and the hour after sunset really is the ideal light to work in when trying to get those spectacular images. Remember that when light is red (red = warm and inviting, blue = cold and uninviting) it’s at its most appealing.
“Golden Hour” is when the sun has set below or has not risen above the horizon and, as a consequence, the shadows are longer and softer, the light is less contrasty and warmer (redder) and at its most flattering compared to the bluer, harsher light of midday when the sun is at its highest in the sky.
In landscape photography the low-angle light casts longer shadows, adding much drama and revealing those much-desired textures and if you’re shooting people, because the light is less contrasty, it’s much harder to “blow out the highlights.”
Using an app (Magic Hour on the App Store – Phototime on Android) that helps you find the best location and evaluate the position of the sun and moon means you’ll get the best possible photographs at dawn and at dusk.
The duration of “golden hour” will vary depending on your latitude and time of year so when you are “on location” your shooting time may be short so plan ahead as you don’t want to waste valuable time fooling around with your equipment or camera settings at the precise moment when your subject is glowing. Remember the adage of renowned landscape photographer and artist Ansel Adams, “You don’t take a photograph, you make it.”
And make sure to pack your tripod if you plan on using long exposures as the light levels may be low. Otherwise, you may have to increase the ISO, increasing unwanted “noise.”
Experiment with front lighting, back lighting, rim lighting, silhouettes and flare
– Front lighting using “Golden Hour” light is the easiest to control. Keep the sun at your back to produce that soft, warm, even, inviting light so sought-after in photography
– Back lighting will produce a soft, glowing, magical image. Position your subject between your position and the sun and us the spot meter in your camera, making sure to expose for the subject rather than the sun.
– Rim lighting is where the sun is positioned right behind the subject in a way that the light creates a flattering halo effect around the subject. Maybe needing a little more experimentation and positioning a dark background is essential for rim lighting and again use the spot metering option in your camera.
– Silhouette – a solid shape of a single color, usually black, against a light background. Place the object or person between you and the sunlight and expose for the sunlight, letting the subject go as dark as possible. If the subject is not dark enough you can easily correct in the camera in real time or correct later in post editing.
Flare is where your main light source, in this case the sun, is recorded as a multi-pointed starburst, producing a greater sense of drama. Position your subject so that they partly obscure the sun, stop the lens down to the smallest aperture (f/16 or f/22) and point the lens directly into the sun.
If you’re looking to kick your photos up a notch, shooting during the “Golden Hour” may just be the big difference you’re looking for. Plan your shoots ahead of time around this time of the day and you’ll be surprised how quickly your images will be looking much more professional. Have fun!