5 Tips for Golden Hour Photography

28 February 2024

If photographers could only shoot at one time of the day, we bet golden hour would be top of their list. It’s known as “magic hour” as the low angle of the sun diffuses light, making it easy to capture the best sunset photos and making subjects even more photogenic.

When you’re chasing golden hour, chances are you’ll be working with limited time and low light. Here are 5 tips to make the most out of your golden hour shoot and capture amazing golden hour photos.

What is golden hour?

Golden hour is the hour just after sunrise and the hour just before sunset. During these times, the sun sits low on the horizon, producing a beautiful, soft, even light that photographers and cinematographers love working with. 

When the sun is rising or setting, its rays shine in at an angle, which bathes subjects and landscapes in a warm, golden light with lots of yellows, oranges and reds. If we compare this with the middle of the day, the sun’s rays shine straight down, causing harsh shadows or washed-out skin tones.

5 Tips for Golden Hour Photography5 Tips for Golden Hour Photography

Top tip: It’s hard to accurately answer the question, when is golden hour? Sunrise and sunset happen at a precise time every day, but not at the same time. Use an app like Sunseeker to time your golden hour shoot.

Our 5 best golden hour photography tips

5 Tips for Golden Hour Photography5 Tips for Golden Hour Photography

#1 Pack the right camera equipment

The natural light will do a lot of the heavy lifting for you, but this gear helps:

  • Lightweight tripod. Setting your camera on a tripod will help you nail your composition so you can move faster, and eliminate camera shake to take clear, sharp images.
  • Fill light. If you are shooting portraits, using a flash or reflector will illuminate your subject and fill in any shadows on their face for better exposure.
  • Remote control. If you’re photographing landscapes on unsteady ground, a remote control is another way to reduce camera shake.

#2 Play around with golden hour photography settings

You’ll need to adjust your camera settings to let more light in and get an evenly lit exposure. These are the golden rules for sunrise and sunset photography:

  • Turn up the ISO. Start at 100 to reduce image noise, and as the sky gets darker, raise the ISO a little bit at a time until you get the desired effect. 800 is a good stopping point before photos get grainy.
  • Choose a longer shutter speed. Aim for 1/60 if you’re shooting handheld or 1/100 if you’re using a tripod. Keep in mind that slow shutter speeds can cause camera shake, which is why we recommend a tripod.
  • Use a lower aperture. Shooting portraits? Go with a low aperture of F/2.0 or below to create more bokeh and amp up the magic feel of golden hour.
  • Change your white balance. Manually adjust your white balance to 6000-6500K, which should fall within the Cloudy or Shade mode of your camera. Tweak the white balance up or down from there to bring out the warm, rich colours of the landscape while making sure your images reflect real life.
5 Tips for Golden Hour Photography5 Tips for Golden Hour Photography

For more tips, read our blog post on how to take better photos.

5 Tips for Golden Hour Photography5 Tips for Golden Hour Photography

#3 Shoot against the light

During golden hour, you want to use the sun as a backlight. This is key with portraits — backlighting your subjects will soften the shadows on their faces and help you avoid orange skin tones. It will also create a halo effect around your subjects’ hair, giving them a beautiful, warm glow and making their features pop. 

You could also use a reflector to bounce light back onto the subject and create a more even exposure. If you want to capture a silhouette, try the white side of a reflector to keep the fill light soft while holding on to the detail in the background as well as the subject’s face.

#4 Snap lots of photos

The beauty of golden hour photography is the changing light. Shoot more frames than usual so that you can capture your subject or landscape throughout these changes and you’ll have tons of options to work with during your photo editing process. But don’t rush — when you’re in a spot, try a variety of poses, compositions or expressions before moving on to the next one. Landscape photographers often snap multiple photos at different exposures and combine them later in Lightroom. Merging HDR photos is a great technique, especially if you are shooting a bright sky and a much darker foreground.

Top tip: Stay a little longer. After the sun sets, “blue hour” begins and it’s worth sticking around for a few photos of the world bathed in deep blues, pinks and purples.

5 Tips for Golden Hour Photography5 Tips for Golden Hour Photography
5 Tips for Golden Hour Photography5 Tips for Golden Hour Photography

#5 Shoot in RAW

When you shoot in RAW rather than JPEG, your images retain all their original data. This means you’ll have more editing options without worrying about compromising the quality of the photo. This kind of fine-tuning is even more important for golden hour lighting photos, where you’re working with high contrasts.

Get caught up in the magic of golden hour

Golden hour lighting is another tool in your toolkit, and learning how to harness it can help you take better sunset photos. For more pro tips, check out Ted’s Cameras blog.

Save $10*

When you subscribe to ClubTed today!

Save $10*

When you subscribe to ClubTed today!