When Is The Golden Hour?The golden hour is the first and last hour of sunlight in a day. Check the sunrise and sunset times in your city to make the best of the precious hour.
Golden light photography is like being dealt a pair of aces in a game of Texas hold 'em. It's a great hand, but you still have to raise the stakes to rake in some real moolah, you have to be careful not to go overboard with your bets and mess it up, and the five community cards can still mess up the hand of your life.
The golden hour is (approximately) an hour after sunrise and before sunset, and this time can vary from region to region. The light during this period is ideal for amateur photography, and a very helpful natural aid for the pros.
Photography is all about light and the best ways to manipulate it. In a studio setting the photographer is in full control of the lighting, and can determine just how 'fresh' the latest aspiring model would look. Nature, on the other hand, is a fickle mistress, and your best-laid plans can be ruined by the slightest of showers in the middle of summer. So it's best to go along with the flitting moods of Mother Nature, and take advantage of the times when she's helpful.
But first, let's get something out of the way. Just why is the golden hour so important, and why is the golden light so venerated?
It is balanced
The golden hour is the perfect mixture of light and dark. The difference between the darkest and brightest elements of a photograph is the smallest during the golden hour. This means that you can take beautiful shots and experiment more, without fearing a blowout of the highlights or the abyssal darkness of the shadows.
It is soft
In photographic terms, golden light is very soft. Soft light doesn't make you squint, and makes your subjects look better. Its effect is not just limited to human portraits, but extends to natural elements such as trees and sand. When contrasted against the beautiful golden light, even something as inanimate as a road looks warm and inviting.
It is warm
Speaking of warm, golden light has a high color temperature. There is very little blue light present, since it is dispersed by the Earth's atmosphere, and the vivid reds and yellows are present in full bloom. This enhances skin tones, and brings about an effect similar to tanning. Who doesn't like that much-vaunted bronzed look?
It Is 3D
Photography is the representation of 3D elements on a 2D medium. Golden light, with the inherently long and soft yet pronounced shadows, is the best tool to merge the two.
There are some simple tips for maximizing the gain from the golden light. Here are the prominent ones...
How To Capture The Golden Opportunity
Focus on the golden light
When you get up before the crack of dawn just to shoot the glorious sunrise, there is really no point in not focusing on the golden effect the light brings. As a photographer, you always have to be on the lookout for an inviting frame, but when shooting in the golden light, concentrate on shooting in the golden light. Try to capture frames that feature the golden light prominently, and make the golden light an element in your photos.
If you are photographing a client, try to schedule your sessions around dawn or, more preferably, dusk. If clicking away for fun, take the effort of getting up before the sun rises, and march to the perfect spot. The clicks will be worth it.
Keep your equipment ready
When the first, precious golden rays peek out from behind the doors of the horizon, do you want to be diving into the action head-on, or do you want to be setting up your tripod that always gets stuck precisely at the perfect moment, and sorting between your lenses?
The annoying thing about the wonderful golden hour is in the name - it only lasts for an hour, at most. More often than not, clouds will obscure the sun and other uncontrollable elements will be determined to get in and ruin your picture. The ideal lighting conditions in a golden hour actually last for less than half an hour. So keep your camera battle-ready, well before the sky turns yellow.
Don't use the flash
If there's one thing that ruins the whole effort made to use golden light, it's using the flash. The flash has a very specific set of uses, and golden hour photography is not one of them. Use the beautiful natural light fully. If you intend to shoot both portraits and landscapes, do the portraits first, and use the tripod for the slower shutter speeds for the landscapes.
Use both front and back lighting
Fully explore the effects of front lighting and silhouettes at different times. Partial silhouettes and even full silhouettes early in the evening will look drastically different from silhouettes captured later on.
Adjust shutter speed according to aperture
Getting the aperture right can make or break a photograph; this is especially true in golden hour photography. Keep the aperture constant, and adjust the shutter speed according to the light reading. For candid portraits against the backdrop of the setting sun, keep the aperture wide (keep the f-number low), and use faster shutter speeds to catch that perfect smile. Use the tripod for landscapes, and keep the aperture small (keep the f-number high) to capture the intricate details of the silhouettes of trees, buildings, etc., with a slower shutter speed. A small aperture will also bring the Sun itself into the shot as a conspicuous element.
Use every precious moment
Don't just click a couple of shots and go back home to perfect them on Photoshop. Lighting conditions change rapidly in the golden hour, especially during sunset, and a scene may look completely different just a few minutes after you gave up on it. Keep clicking away.
Here's an illustration of why golden light is the best light for photography.
Some minor elements in the following images are 'Photoshopped', but would not affect the image drastically if removed. The images are chosen to illustrate the difference between similar scenes.
As you can see, golden light can completely transform any scene with a wave of its magic wand. Clicking great photographs is as much about technique as simply being at the right place at the right time. The golden hour is a natural lifeline to that end - use it wisely and exploit its full potential.