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Golden hour photography can result in some amazing and almost magical photos. Portrait and landscape photographers favour the golden hour time of day and sometimes build entire sessions around it.

Here are 10 reasons why you should shoot during the golden hour:

1. Unwanted Shadows

When taking portraits, light direction has an important effect on how they will look. It is recommended to avoid vertical lights coming from above your model, because they create ugly shadows on the face.

An especially unflattering effect in portrait photography is “raccoon eyes” where the eyebrows are casting a shadow over the eyes, making them look like dark circles.

This is not the case with golden hour photography. The light comes from a low angle, illuminating the model’s face from the side, not from above. You might need to deal with other shadows, but you can save yourself so much pain in post processing just for avoiding the raccoon eyes effect.

2. Warm Colours

Colours are a strong compositional tool in photography that can be used to convey mood. One of the main traits of the golden hour is its characteristic colour palette: yellows, oranges, reds.

All of these are warm colours (between 1000 and 4000 on the Kelvin colour-temperature scale). Warm colours evoke positive feelings such as happiness, excitement and optimism. For that reason, images taken during the golden hour have a positive energy associated with them.

It makes your photography look a bit magical, hence the golden hour’s nickname as “magic hour”.

Portraits also benefit from the golden hour because skin tones look better. The yellow-red hue of the light makes the skin look warmer rather than neutral or cold.

3. Creative Side Light

During the golden hour, sunlight hits the subject from only one side. This results in one side of your subject being shadowed. This is why it is also called split lighting.

Shadows add texture and depth to the portrait. They give it a different look than front light. It also adds a bit of drama, but not as much as when you try this lighting in a studio.

4. Backlight Photography

The light’s angle during golden hour is perfect for some backlight photography. This occurs when light comes from behind your model/subject. And it gives you a lot of artistic possibilities.

You can get a very dramatic effect when the object you are shooting has some degree of translucence. The translucent part of the subject will have a strong light intensity and the opaque part will be darker. This makes the subject seem to glow.

It is even more evident when the background is dark. The contrast between the translucent  and the opaque areas also makes the photo look more dynamic.

Translucent parts can be: hair, feathers, leaves, flowers etc.

5. Silhouettes

The golden hour is a great opportunity to create silhouettes. A silhouette is when the subject of your photo is totally or almost totally blacked out and the background is well exposed. They work especially well with subjects that have an easily recognisable shape.

The high contrast with the subject and the lack of detail make silhouettes a great way to add drama and mystery to your photo. You can create them by shooting towards the light source (in this case the sun) and placing your subject between you and that source.

Exposure is important in order to get nice silhouettes. You need to set your exposure settings so that the brightest part of the image would be at optimal exposure, in our case we want to capture the sky with all its colours and details. Under such settings your subject will be extremely underexposed.

One thing that helps me when I am taking silhouettes is to imagine that the most important thing in the photo is the background and then expose the image in order to get it well. I use spot metering mode and first I meter by focusing on the background.

I adjust the exposure accordingly and before taking the photo I change the focus to the actual subject I want to shoot. The camera will say that it is underexposed, but that’s not a problem, we already have the settings the way we want them.

6. Sunstars

Sunstars are one of my favourite optical effects. Here’s how to create them.

First, set your aperture on a high value (ideally f/16 or f/22). Then, set the shutter speed and the ISO to underexpose the image by two stops. The sun will be in the frame. If you don’t underexpose it, you might end up with too much light in your photo.

Sunstars are easier to get if you have the sun as small as possible. In other words, if the sun is a bit covered by something. When the sun is high in the sky, it might be difficult to find objects that can hide the sun and you might find yourself limited in terms of angles and perspectives.

But during the golden hour the sun is in a lower position. You can get interesting sunstars then.

You can, for example, use your model to cover the sun. Be creative and have fun! But be safe too.

Don’t look directly at the sun, the lens concentrates the light just like a magnifying glass, so don’t use the eye piece if you don’t have protection!

Instead you can use the screen display, and don’t forget to consult your camera manual for details.

7. Less Busy

This is especially true for the morning golden hour. If you like taking photos of empty landscapes, early golden hour is a perfect time to take photos. Most people venture outside later. During these early hours you can enjoy the beautiful golden hour light, a calm place and some privacy.

Another thing to take into account is cleanliness. In most places, cleaning is done at the end of the day or at night. If you wake up early, chances are that you will arrive at a clean site.

On the other hand, if you want a more lively environment, with more people, you should go in the afternoon.

This is a very busy spot usually, but during the morning golden hour I was almost alone.

8. Long Shadows

Shadows add texture and detail to the image. They give a sense of volume and depth. During the golden hour, due to the position of the sun, you will have long shadows that you can use to emphasise elements in the photo such as sand dunes, grooves etc.

You can also take photos of the shadows of your models. And you can use the shadows as a photo composition element. Shadows can balance the warm reds and yellows from the sun with their darker colours.

Thanks to the shadows you can appreciate the texture of the sand and notice the little holes the kid made with his toes.

You should also remember your own shadow because it might get in the way and ruin the photo. This is especially important if you want to take photos with the sun behind you. Just be aware of your shadow and make sure to check where it is before you press the shutter release.

If your shadow is going to appear in the image, just move around and place yourself and the model in a way that your shadow falls outside of the photo frame. Unless you want to take creative photos with your shadows!

Look how long a shadow can get during the golden hour!

9. Everyday Sights Turn Magical

Everything under this light seems beautiful and dreamy. You can use this to your advantage and take beautiful photos even when your subject might not look so spectacular. Dry vegetation, lonely trees, old fences, empty paths – these can all turn into photography subjects.

If you want to give a sense of nostalgia to your pictures that might otherwise look barren or hard, I recommend you take photos during the golden hour because. It adds gold tints and soft light effects that will make the image easier to relate to.

10. Beautiful Sunrises and Sunsets

I have always loved sunrises and sunsets. And since becoming a photographer, the number of sunsets and sunrises I’ve witnessed has increased.

It’s easy to miss these phenomena in our daily lives. We’re tired or we’re sleeping in or we’re busy doing other things. If you decide to start chasing the golden hour, you will have the motivation to jump out of bed or to take an hour from your daily routine in order to catch that magical light. And you won’t regret it.

You will see beautiful scenes and you will capture them with your camera. You can also bring your friends, family or even dates to keep you company. And even other photographers would appreciate a little stroll in the sunset. Or you can venture out yourself and enjoy some well-deserved peace and quiet.

Conclusion

Shooting during the golden hour has a lot of advantages. You can emphasise textures and get creative with long shadows, try some backlight photography to make things glow or have some fun creating silhouettes.

You will also enjoy some beautiful warm colours. Just take your camera and get ready to catch the golden lights of the sunrise and sunset!

You should also check out our article on blue hour photography for added variety to your shots!

A note from Josh, ExpertPhotography's Photographer-In-Chief:

Thank you for reading...

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Thanks again for reading our articles!

Sarah Rodriguez-Martinez

I am a self-taught photographer based in Catalonia. I learnt the craft by reading, taking online courses and spending a lot of hours taking photos. These days I am shooting mostly portraits, nature photos and cultural events. Lately I am also doing yoga photography because I am a yogini myself. I am well known for loving coffee and hating Mondays. You can contact me easily by Instagram (@sarahrmphotos).

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