Golden hour light is truly magical, creating some of the best opportunities for photography every day. If you’re brand new to shooting at golden hour or are looking for a few tips to improve your golden hour photography, familiarize yourself with the best gear and camera settings to make the most of these special hours.
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What is the Golden Hour?
In photography, golden hour refers to the period directly before sunrise and right after sunset. During these hours, the daylight is redder and softer than it is during mid-day when the sun is directly overhead. This red, soft light is extremely flattering, making the golden hour an ideal time for taking pictures. Many photographers opt to schedule client sessions during the golden hour take advantage of this flattering light.
Golden Hour Photography – What Gear You Need
Wide-angle or mid-range lens
Most photographers prefer to shoot golden hour landscapes with a wide-angle lens (24mm or wider) and portraits with a mid-range lens (around 50mm). Unless you’re creating macro shots, such as close-up flowers or insects, most likely you won’t need a lens with longer focal length during golden hour.
Check how incredibly cheap are these wide-angle and mid-range lens on Amazon:
Canon APS-C 24mm f/2.8
Sigma 30mm f/1.4 (for Canon)
Sony E 20mm f/2.8 (APS-C)
Olympus 25mm f/1.8 (Micro Four Thirds)
Canon 40mm f/2.8
A circular polarizer is a filter you place in front of your lens to capture vividness and contrast in a scene accurately. Similar to wearing sunglasses on a bright day, a circular polarizer makes the sky darker, the water more vibrant, and glare from buildings and other reflective surfaces less harsh. Using a circular polarizer at golden hour will keep the beautiful warm tones at maximum vibrancy.
Shooting at golden hour with a tripod will help you slow down your shutter speed while keeping your image sharp. It’s all but impossible to shoot handheld at a shutter speed below 1/60 without introducing blur. On a tripod, you can slow down the shutter speed as much as you like, allowing you to maintain a low ISO and an aperture of f/4 or higher for full sharpness.
Check this amazing Manfrotto tripod on Amazon: Manfrotto BeFree Travel Tripod
Camera Settings for Golden Hour Photography
When you’re trying to achieve maximum bokeh, keep your aperture around f/2.8. When you want a sharp image from foreground to background, keep your aperture around f/4 or higher.
If you want to learn more about aperture in photography, you can read Photography Basics: Aperture
Once you’ve selected the optimal aperture for your subject, choose a shutter speed that will eliminate the risk of motion blur. For landscapes and still life compositions, keep your shutter speed low, around 1/125. For family portraits with young children, increase your shutter speed to 1/250 or higher. If you want to add motion blur to an image, do so carefully. You don’t want to end up with a big blurry mess.
If you want to learn more about shutter speed in photography, you can read Understanding Shutter Speed in Photography
Keep your ISO as low as possible, ideally ISO 100 or 200. With plenty of light available, it shouldn’t be hard to maintain a low ISO level. The exact level that works best for any given shot will depend on your specific location and subject, as well as your other settings and the gear you’re using.
Learn more about ISO reading this article: Photography Basics, Understanding ISO
Even when you’re shooting in RAW, you’ll produce optimal warm tones during the golden hour with a manual white balance setting. Leaving the camera set to auto white balance tends to turn images blue, which defeats the purpose of shooting at golden hour. Shade or cloudy white balance settings are a good starting point for keeping those beautiful warm hues in tact.
Bonus Tip! Use the Golden Hour Calculator
Over the course of a calendar year, the exact timing for golden hour varies significantly, even in a single location. In the midwest United States, winter golden hour may start as early as 4:15 p.m. while summer golden hour doesn’t start until after 7:00 p.m. The Golden Hour Calculator is a fantastic resource for getting accurate, up to date information about the current golden hour for your specific location, so you can plan photo outings and client sessions accordingly.
As with any type of photography, it takes time, patience, and a bit of trial and error to perfect golden hour shots. While the light is beautiful and flattering, you may struggle to capture it accurately with your camera, which is completely normal. Keep studying great golden hour photos and working to improve your technique.
Do you have any additional tips for golden hour photography?
What camera lenses and settings do you gravitate toward during the golden hour?
Rose Clearfield is a freelance writer and hobbyist photographer. She lives in southeast WI with her husband, son, and three cats. She bought her first DSLR in 2012 and hasn’t looked back since. With an education background and a passion for writing, she loves helping people learn how to take better pictures.