When it comes to photography, timing can make all the difference. Trying to nail that shot with a perfect balance of warmth, colour, intensity and depth is no easy feat. The golden hour, which covers the hours ‘immediately after sunrise and before sunset, is considered the most accommodating time of the day. The reason being, these are the moments where the soft glow of the sun provides a delicate warmth contrasted with striking shadows. Something that just can’t be matched or recreated artificially. Let’s look closer at this special source of light.
Soft Warmth and Dimension
Because the sun’s light is diffused through more of the atmosphere when emerging or descending, the light offers a warm, golden appearance. There are hues of yellow, orange and red which strike over subjects leaving a gratifying sight. This is particularly the case when it lights up a person’s skin, offering a soft and radiant glow.
What’s more, the light is not harsh as it would be during the day. Instead of a harsh appearance or reflections, one can often face the direction of the sun without problems. In turn, photographers can capture some truly interesting scales of dimension. Shadows are not as intense as other moments in the afternoon and they’re significantly longer.
Understand the Conditions
Although it’s often assumed that golden hour is the hour after sunrise and the hour preceding sunset, the reality depends on where you live. Being closer to the equator shortens your opportunity – sorry Queenslanders! If you’re further away, you’ll have more time but you need to remain wary of the season and daylight savings.
It’s also important to pay attention to the weather forecast. Aside from the obvious sunrise and sunset times, cloud cover is one such factor that could impede your access. With limited time to make the most of this golden light, it’s important you maximise the opportunity.
Try to align your photo sessions with as much exposure to the golden hour as possible. You might have to make a few adjustments to your personal schedule, but this is one area where making a few personal sacrifices is worth it. It’s important to be ready at the location before the golden hour starts.
Not only should you have your equipment ready and prepared the night before, or perhaps during the day for a sunset shoot, but you should also be organised for the setting. For example, have a plan of what you’ll be shooting and the associated angles. Go out to the location beforehand, or the day earlier, to plan and compose your photography and where you’ll be shooting from. Once on site, shoot rapidly but with attention to detail.
Nailing Those Shots
The beauty of the golden hour is that you can use that warm glow of the sun to create a variety of gorgeous shots. The sun can be used as frontal lighting to light up faces, backlighting for a glowing background, artistically to create flaring sparks, and other purposes like an increased sense of depth.
Golden light is a great opportunity to work with a wide aperture and allow more light into the lens. Avoid using automatic white balance settings, or else your camera may overcompensate for the warm colours. Consider your utilisation of any additional lighting sources, such as fill flash, and manually adjust your camera to balance the light source you nominate. When it comes to balancing exposure between different parts of a shot, consider either bracketing the frame, using graduated filters, or shooting in RAW and editing later.
One of the most radiant moments working with people is having your subject(s) partially cover the light from the sun to produce their very own flare effect. When it comes to landscapes, you can rely on shadow depth to pick up extra details in scenery, or reflections of the sky from the ground. Alternatively, a contrasting silhouette can be created shooting directly at the sun, emphasising shapes and patterns. Regardless, continue to shoot throughout the golden hour. Such is the pace the sun moves, you will end up with an assortment of different looking shots taken only minutes apart.