What is 'the golden hour' and why is it an important element of photography?
The golden hour is magic light for photographers. The rich, golden light highlights details and textures – and can turn an ordinary scene into something extraordinary. It is the time of day with the best lighting. The golden hour occurs twice a day - it's roughly the first hour of light after sunrise, and the last hour of light before sunset, although the exact duration varies between seasons.
If you want to work out yourself when the golden hour is, you need to start by finding your local sunrise and sunset times - the easiest way is to use an online sunrise and sunset calculator.
The golden hour rule can be applied to any type of outdoor photography. As well as the more obvious subjects such as landscapes and city scenes, it also works well for outdoor portraits, which is why I always schedule my outdoor portrait sessions for these times.
Below are two of my landscape photographs that were taken at sunset. The first image was taken at Budgewoi Lake on the Central Coast, NSW and the second image was taken in Ireland. Notice how soft the light and shadows are. Taken on different days, these are very different sunsets. Changes in lighting during the golden hour occur pretty fast; the landscape I shot when first arriving at both locations looked significantly different 10 minutes later.
Tip: keep shooting for the whole time and be sure to capture as many variations as possible.
This is my favourite time of day to shoot at. While it does mean getting up very early (especially in Winter) to drive to the location and set up, the results are worth it. Not only is it quiet and calm at that time of day, when I am sitting on a beach at sunrise, I really feel in awe of nature. Watching the sun come up is something I think everyone should do at least once in their lives.
In these two sunrise images, you can see the different tones that I got when I was shooting before the sunrise (second image) and then as the sun rose above the horizon (first image). By shooting before and after sunrise you can get some amazing colours and skies.
Tip: a sturdy tripod is essential, especially when using slow shutter speeds to get a ‘milky’ effect on water.
Golden hour portraits
As I mentioned above, photographing during the golden hour is also perfect for portrait photography as the shadows are longer (and softer) than during the day, and things just look more interesting and dynamic. The warm hues are also very flattering to skin tones. You can get great lens flare as shown in my first image below. Flare is that awesome glowy, rainbowy thing that happens when light hits your lens. It works especially well during golden hour, when the sun is at a great angle, and has lots of colour to play with.
Tip: Shoot with a wide aperture (somewhere between f/1.8 and f/2.2) to capture the amazing bokeh.
Do you like shooting during golden hour? Have any tips to share? Comment now!