How to Shoot During Golden Hour
Golden hour, so deeply loved by many photographers, is roughly the first hour after sunrise each day and the last hour before sunset. I say roughly, because there are many factors that play into that best golden sunlight. Such factors include weather conditions, where you live in the world, how high or low you are in elevation, the season, etc.
One of the most popular questions I see asked in photography groups is how to shoot during golden hour. When I first started my photography business I was also constantly Googling how to successfully shoot during this time. After many years and lots of practice, I have put together a list of things to remember when shooting at golden hour. You can check out some favorite golden hour sessions of mine here, here, and here.
First let’s talk about the most common issues people can have while shooting during golden hour. Unfortunately it’s not as easy as just going outside with your camera and taking pictures with the sun behind your subjects. That is definitely the first step, but here are some of the problems photographers face and after I’ll share tips to help you avoid some of these!
Problems Shooting During Golden Hour
Images come out hazy during golden hour
A little bit of haze is no big deal- some photographers actually prefer it! There is even a slider in Lightroom where you can fix it a bit. However, too much haze can make your subjects difficult to see and you can lose some sharpness. This happens when you are letting too much light into your lens during the shot. It’s really a pretty easy fix!
Subjects are too dark
Again, this one is fixable in Lightroom and Photoshop using radial filters. Ideally you want to make sure you’re letting in enough light and positioning yourself in the right way to avoid your subjects being too dark. If you have the sun completely blocked by something on the horizon line, this can cause your subjects to be too dark.
Sun flares cover your subject’s face
This one I don’t totally mind personally. I never want every single picture I take to have a huge sun flare across someone’s face and body, however I almost always include a few images with a nice flare because I do love them! This one is more of a preference thing in my opinion, but you definitely want to make sure when you do it, it’s intentional.
There are no trees or objects to filter the light during golden hour
Sometimes I will be shooting at a location where there are not any objects on the horizon that I can use to filter some of that low golden hour light. In that case I will actually use my subjects and their heads and bodies to break the light up a little bit. Your positioning as the photographer is also key in these cases.
Best Practices for Shooting During Golden Hour
Download a Free Golden Hour App!
I personally use the app Helios to tell me when sunset will be in my area at a certain time of the year. Often times I’m scheduling my sessions months in advance so I can get on the app and see when golden hour will be either in the morning or at night on an exact day months from now. You definitely want to make sure that you are shooting early in the morning or late in the evening in order to ensure you are shooting during golden hour. Sometimes I will start my sessions a bit before that just to give myself some time to settle in and get started, but you definitely do not want to be shooting hours before that if your goal is to shoot during golden hour.
Filter the Light!
One of THE MOST important things when shooting at golden hour for me is finding a tree/bush/building/object to filter a bit of that light. This definitely helps a lot with preventing your images from being too hazy. I’m typically using a tree line behind my subjects and positioning myself so that when I look through my lens I see light coming through but there are some leaves or flowers or branches blocking some of the sun. In doing this, you are not letting quite as much direct light into your lens which helps keep your subjects sharp and well-lit. As I mentioned earlier, you can also use your subjects themselves to block a bit of the light. With a couple for example, I will have them put their heads together and move around to get the sun peeking out just over one of their heads to get a bit of flare.
Move Move Move- During Golden Hour and ALWAYS
I never, I repeat NEVER, just stand in one place when I am photographing my clients. Not only do young children not allow me to do that, I like to get different perspectives and play with the light! Oftentimes if I get too low I will see things starting to get a little hazy or the flares starting to get a little too much, so I will try a different angle. If I do not have anything behind my subjects I will usually move to one side and angle myself so that the light is coming in from the right or the left and letting a bit of a golden flare through without being directly behind them. If you completely block the sun that is when you will notice your subjects are much too dark. Play with the light- find your creative style during golden hour! The BEST way to do this is to keep moving and trying different positioning and locations.
Golden hour is my absolute favorite time to shoot outside. There can definitely be issues that arise when you first start shooting during golden hour, but I hope with these suggestions, you will feel more prepared to get out there and play around with that perfect golden light!