The “Golden Hour” is a unique time just after sunrise and just before sunset when light is especially beautiful. The angle of the sun creates strong shadows and brings out textures that are not always visible during the day. The light is also softer and more even, like a natural softbox.
The Golden Hour can completely transform a scene, landscape, or portrait. Images created during the Golden Hour tend to have a warm tone and a nostalgic atmosphere, like a snapshot of a good memory. Depth and drama are everywhere, and everything seems to glows.
Depending on the weather, location, and time of year, this effect can be brief or last for a few hours. In general, the farther you are from the equator, the longer the Golden Hour will be. For example, in Alaska or Norway, the Golden Hour lasts several hours in both the summer (around midnight) and the winter (all day).
The powerful effect of the Golden Hour is enough to make photographers change their whole schedule, just to be outside around sunset or sunrise. While you can certainly take gorgeous shots at other times of the day, the golden hour makes capturing beauty easy.
In other words, if you need encouragement or an ego boost about your photography, try going out during the Golden Hour. It can completely change the way you experience a scene or subject. In fact, if you’re ever frustrated with a certain landscape at noon, try going back around sunset or sunrise. You might discover a whole new world that’s a joy to photograph.
However, even the Golden Hour can present a few challenges for photographers. First of all, it requires planning. Unless you’re somewhere with a long Golden Hour, like the Antarctic or the Far North, you’ll need to be prepared to shoot as soon as it begins. Otherwise, you could end up wasting time with setting up or scoping out a location.
When planning your shoot, start by looking up when the Golden Hour will begin in your area. There are several useful online tools for this, such as the Golden Hour calculator.
Keep in mind that the Golden Hour may be cut short if clouds start to roll in. The sun may also dip down into clouds right at the horizon, suddenly stealing away the perfect light. Don’t assume that the Golden Hour will last as long as it’s supposed to. If you’re shooting portraits, especially professionally, try to prioritize the shots you’re planning, and take the most important ones first.
Likewise, try to arrive at the photo shoot location well before the Golden Hour begins. If it’s a popular or touristy spot, give yourself even more time. Then, you won’t be rushed or crowded out by other photographers and tourists.
If possible, stay at the location and keep shooting until the Golden Hour ends. Since the light changes constantly from start to finish, you can miss out on spectacular shots if you leave early. Staying longer gives you a wider range of colors and moods to capture. You may even score some Blue Hour shots if you stay long enough in the evening (or arrive early enough in the morning).
If it’s cold outside, make sure to dress warmly enough (with gloves), and bring a hot drink! You don’t want to have shivering, numb hands by the end of the shoot.
Depending on what you’re shooting, you might want to bring along a graduated neutral density filter (ND Grad), too. It’s essential for any shots of the colorful sky and sunset during the Golden Hour. Without it, your shots could end up looking dull or washed out due to the high contrast between the sky and landscape. ND Grads cut down on this contrast, allowing you to capture the sky and sunset just as they are–popping with color.
Golden Hour Photography
For inspiration on what to shoot during the Golden Hour, check out these gorgeous photos selected from our talented Flickr community.