What are the golden hours in photography (and how to shoot them)

What are the golden hours in photography (and how to shoot them)
Tutorial

You’ve probably heard photographers talk about shooting during the golden hours to capture the best light, but if you’re new to photography or you tend to work more in a studio you might have wondered what the golden hours are.

What are the golden hours?

The golden hours in photography are the periods just after sunrise and just before the sun sets in the evening when the light is at its most spectacular.

Typically these are considered to be the first hour of daylight after sunrise and the last hour of daylight before sunset, and everyone from portrait to architectural photographers who works with natural light – but particularly landscape photographers – time their shoots for these hours.

What makes the golden hours so special for photographers is that the sun is low in the sky, meaning its light has to pass through more of the earth’s atmosphere. This gives the light a soft, ‘golden’ quality, which bathes scenes in striking light and rich colours and contrast.

However, we should point out that the golden hours are magical every day. Rainy mornings and cloudy evenings will look just as bland in the hour before sunset as they did at 2pm. You need clear days with a strong sun for golden hours to be truly golden.

How to photograph the golden hours

How to photograph the golden hours

Sometimes you’ll find the weather will be doing its job, but you just can’t take advantage of the golden hours in your resulting images. This could be happening for a number of reasons.

The most likely culprit is that your camera is set to its Auto White Balance setting. Nine times out of 10 your AWB setting gets the colours right, but sometimes when a scene is awash with golden light your camera may determine that there is too much orange.

To balance out the scene your camera will tone down the orange and give your image a flatter, more regular daylight look.

To fix this, switch your camera to its Cloudy white balance setting. This should help your camera retain the golden light. Likewise you can also try your Shade setting, which will help accentuate the golden glow.

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Camera settings to avoid

If your camera has scene modes or picture styles, avoid using your Landscape setting. Names of these modes vary by manufacturer, but the Landscape option on your camera will boost blues and greens in a scene while quelling the saturation of orange hues.

So while your instinct might be to use the Landscape option since you’re shooting a landscape, it’s not the best mode for golden hour images.

Instead, use your standard setting instead, and shoot in raw. This gives you more options to tweak colours and fine tune your image at the post-processing stage.

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