Golden hour light is truly magical, creating some of the best opportunities for photography every day. But it’s not always easy to get the right settings for golden hour photography.
If you’re brand new to shooting at the golden hour or are looking for a few tips to improve your golden hour photography, this article is for you. Familiarize yourself with the best camera settings and gear to make the most of these special hours.
What is the Golden Hour?
In photography, the golden hour refers to the period directly after sunrise and right before 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.
- Shadows are longer and colors are more contrasty. Many photographers opt to schedule client sessions during the golden hour take advantage of this flattering light.
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Camera Settings for Golden Hour Photography
It’s important to know the three fundamental settings: aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. They determine the exposure triangle in photography. To achieve great control of your photos, knowing these aspects is key.
Aperture Value for Golden Hour Photos
Aperture is the size of the opening of your lens diaphragm.
In general, when you’re trying to achieve maximum bokeh, keep your aperture high. Around f/2.8. When you want a sharp image from foreground to background, keep your aperture around f/5.6 or smaller.
In landscape photography, you want to get everything in focus so a long depth of field is what you need. With smaller aperture values, from f/8 to f/22 you’ll most definitely need a tripod since you’ll also need a slower shutter speed to let your sensor capture the right amount of light. By doing so you’ll also obtain a longer exposure.
If you want to learn more about aperture in photography, you can read Photography Basics: Aperture
Shutter Speed Value for Golden Hour Photos
Shutter speed is the length of time your camera shutter remains open.
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. As I mentioned above, the slow shutter speed will require a tripod.
ISO Value for Golden Hour Photos
ISO controls the light sensitivity of your camera sensor.
Keep your ISO as low as possible, ideally, base ISO 100 or 200. With plenty of light available, it shouldn’t be hard to maintain a low ISO level.
If you shoot very early during sunrise or late in the evening sunset, the light conditions might not be as good and a higher ISO value is required.
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.
Color Temperature for Golden Hour Photos
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 the golden hour.
Shade or cloudy white balance settings are a good starting point for keeping those beautiful warm hues intact.
Golden Hour Photography – What Gear You Need
Before jumping to the best camera settings for sunrise or sunset photography let’s take a look at the gear you can use.
First of all, to take amazing golden hour photos, you don’t need the most expensive camera or lenses.
An entry-level, interchangeable lens camera will be ok. But want I want to show you are some lenses that will save you a lot of money.
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 landscape photography lens with longer focal length during golden hour.
Check how incredibly cheap are these wide-angle and mid-range lens on Amazon (affiliate links):
– Canon 24mm f/2.8 (for APS-C sensor)
– Sigma 30mm f/1.4 (for Canon APS-C)
– Sony E 20mm f/2.8 (for APS-C sensor)
– Olympus 25mm f/1.8 (for Micro Four Thirds sensor)
– Canon 40mm f/2.8 (for APS-C sensor)
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 blues in the sky and 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.
Check this popular circular polarizer on Amazon.
- Essential for outdoor photography
- Deepens intensity of blue skies
- Reduces or eliminates glare
- 67 millimeter diameter
- Circular construction
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
- PORTABLE: Intuitive to use and easy to configure, this travel tripod is convenient in all travel situations, furthermore its aluminium body makes it lightweight to carry but strong and complete
- COMBINABLE: The supplied plate is compatible with the most common standard head attachments - Manfrotto and Arca-Swiss - which can be easily and quickly configured
- SAFE: Thanks to the spider and the QPL Travel locking system, maximum stability is guaranteed in all circumstances, increasing the precision and sharpness of your shots
- VERSATILE: Allows you to change the perspective and tripod height without losing the camera's focus. The angles of the legs are independent to have full creative freedom
- COMPLETE: The 494 aluminium ball head allows you to position the camera quickly and precisely, through the 3 independent controls for clamping, friction and pan
Bonus Golden Hour Photography Tip
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 Photographer’s Ephemeris 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.