Photography, simply defined, is the art of capturing light. So, if you want to take high quality photographs, you need high quality lighting. This doesn’t necessarily require a studio or any expensive equipment, however. There is natural lighting that photographers swear is as good as gold. Therefore, if you want photos that STAND OUT from the crowd, go for the gold using the golden hour!
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The Golden Hour
You’ve likely heard of “the golden hour,” a time just after sunrise and just before sunset, where the world is bathed in the warm light from the sun on the horizon. Everything seems to look more beautiful at these times, and the photos taken during the golden hour are no exception. But what is it about this gilded light that makes it so fantastic for capturing high quality images?
Generally, photos turn out better when they are taken earlier or later in the day. This helps to avoid the lighting issues that the strong midday sun causes when it is shining brightly and directly overhead. Some of these issues include haze and glare, which wash out definition. Overexposure aside, unflattering dark shadows are also more prominent in the middle of the day, making for some pretty extreme contrast, as exemplified in this article under “Mistake #5.”
During the golden hour, in the earliest and the latest parts of the sunlit day, natural light is diffused, making overly dark shadows and the overexposure of highlights less likely. This is because the rays from the sun have to travel a longer distance through the atmosphere when the sun is near the horizon than when it is directly overhead, Wikipedia explains. This warm light also enhances colors, which, in conjunction with elongated shadows, provides a whisper of drama to golden hour images.
Using the golden hour
Taking advantage of the golden hour is an experience any photographer will delight in. With a little planning and preparation, even a novice can capture high quality images worth their weight in gold!
Find Out When
First, you will need to figure out exactly when the golden hours happen where you are practicing photography. Sunrise and sunset will differ depending on your latitude and from season to season. Thankfully, it is easy to get a close estimate for your local sunrise and sunset times using various websites and apps.
Keep in mind that the name “golden hour” isn’t literal. The length of the golden hour may be very short, lasting just a few minutes in areas close to the Earth’s equator, or it can be long, such as in areas further north on the globe. In latitudes extremely far from the equator, the golden hour can even last all day! Knowing how much time you have to get a shot will help you plan accordingly for your golden hour photography session.
Mt Washington in central Oregon during the golden hour
It is always a good idea to plan ahead, especially if you are working in an area where the golden hour is very short. Get to your location early and, if possible, locate your subject and start shooting. Choosing a composition and setting up your camera beforehand will give you the best opportunity to get the shots you want.
You might need to use some critical thinking, and maybe even a compass, to predict how the light will fall when the golden hour strikes. If time is on your side, you can also go out a few mornings or evenings in a row to get a more tangible idea of where the sun will be and how things will look.
While the golden hour can enhance your photos a great degree, adjustments may still need to be made depending on your subject and the type of photography you are practicing, to achieve the highest possible quality. Using the exposure compensation feature on your camera can balance the exposure of a bright sky against a darker foreground, for example. Playing around with features will get you in the knack for knowing how different settings affect your photos, so you can get great shots more consistently.
The golden hour provides you with the opportunity to capture breathtaking shots, thanks to its’ warm, color-enhancing light, which naturally balances contrast. As with any aspect of photography, the only way to master a skill is to go out and start snapping. I hope you have learned something by reading this article that will inspire you to pick up your camera. With a little preparation, patience, and practice, any photographer can go for the gold using the golden hour!
Loyd is a professional photographer living and working in Portland, Oregon. Loyd has been doing all types of photography for over 13 years, but he is focused on fine art landscape photography. Loyd’s work has been on book covers, CD covers, on TV, in online galleries and on the walls of homes. You can see his online photo storefront at loydtowe.com