While a pink sky might be a sailor’s delight, it’s all about the gold light for photographers. The hour just after sunrise and just before sunset provides a warm golden colour to photos and videos.

The word ‘hour’ is a little deceiving as the ideal light conditions may last longer or shorter than one hour. The length of time depends on the time of year and where you are in the world. Here is a look at why photographers and videographers relish the two golden opportunities they have each day.

Why Golden Light is Gold

Golden hour, also known as magic hour, is the only two times a day that the sunlight is a golden colour. The light is ideal because it makes subjects look warmer and softer than at other times of the day.

Midday is avoided by photographers particularly in summer when the sun is overhead and the light is too bright, creating hard shadows. During golden hour the sun is much closer to the horizon and travels through more atmosphere which acts as a giant diffuser.

Blue light is filtered out leaving more reddish light. The light is softer and more even so it’s easier to achieve correctly exposed photos. The background, middle ground and foreground are clearly defined so photos and video can have a greater depth of field at these times of day.

Shadows are longer and softer when the sun is low in the sky giving more dimension to your images. Use the long shadows for a three-dimensional look in your photos or film.

Golden Hour for Shooting People

It doesn’t matter the age or skin tone of your subject, the light produced during golden hour is flattering for everyone. Children aren’t squinting and the soft light is more forgiving for adults than harsh light. You don’t need to worry about sharp shadows on faces and you can leave your flash at home.

Photographers usually try to avoid sun flare at other times of the day, but during golden hour you can use flare to your advantage in portraits for some added character and atmosphere. Another effect you can take advantage of during during golden hour is the halo or rim light. Line up your shot so that the sun provides backlight to your subject. The light helps your subject stand out from the background and makes your photo pop.

Landscapes During Golden Hour

During the magic times of day the background, middle ground and foreground are clearly defined so photos and video have a greater depth of field – perfect for landscapes.

Golden hour gives you an opportunity to pick up more detail in your landscape photos. With the light illuminating the landscape from one side, all the little detail that is usually lost in brighter light are picked up by the camera.

Motion blur is easier to create during golden hour when the light is even and soft. Set up your tripod and reduce your shutter speed to slow the movement of water in your photos. If the water you have to work with is still rather than moving, this is a perfect opportunity to take a beautiful reflection shot of a setting sun sky or majestic trees in the still water.

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Making the Most of Golden Hour

Once golden hour is over, that’s it for around 12 hours (or 24 hour if you want sunrise or sunset). If you have a long list of shots you want to take, you need to be organised to make the most of every minute. Without a plan, you could be left disappointed.

Start by finding out what time you need to be in position ready for golden hour. Use the Golden Hour website or app to find out what time golden hour begins for your location. The website defines the start of golden hour as the moment the sun is between the horizon and six degrees above. If you like to plan ahead, you can choose a future date in the app’s calendar and make a note of the time you need to be in place.

You may be wise to do a reconnaissance visit to your location the day before (preferably during the same time of day) so you know how you will gain access and where you will stand. Pack everything you need for the shoot the night before so you can grab your camera bag and go in the morning. Set your alarm so you are up and ready in time to head to your location and set up before the magic begins. There is nothing worse than getting your equipment out of your bag knowing you’re missing out on golden minutes and the best shots!

If you are planning a video or photo shoot at your workplace (e.g. for marketing or training videos) be aware that the best conditions may be late in the day. If you make the effort to make sure people can work late and be available during the evening golden hour you will be rewarded with better visuals and more cinematic looking videos!

If you’re after photos and video footage that shows your organisation in the best light, get in touch and we’ll make it happen.