Golden Hour – What is it and Why Should You Care?

Golden Hour is a term that is thrown around a lot in photography. If you’re a photographer or an aspiring photographer, this is one thing you HAVE TO know. Knowing what and when Golden Hour is is helpful even for just when you’re getting pictures done.

Golden Hour Defined

golden hour

Golden Hour is the time of day where the sun has just risen, or the sun is about to set. It happens twice a day. The first one starts at sunrise and then lasts for 1 hour. The second starts 1 hour before sunset and goes until the sun has set. Your basically guaranteed to have good lighting during Golden Hour.

Shooting When the Sun is too High

shot at noon

The sun was nearly directly over my wife’s head in the above picture. You can see that the upper left part of her face is a bit overexposed. The location and harshness of the sun caused the overexposure. Since that spot is so bright, the rest of her face looks overly shaded.

There are ways that you can get around this if you have no other options. Finding a large shaded area (such as a park with lots of trees) will diffuse the harsh light and should make your pictures a lot more pleasing. This is also a prime time to do indoor photography. The windows in a house can really help defuse the harsh rays of the sun and make for some really nice contrasty light.

Shooting When it’s too Dark

shot too late

On the other hand, if you shoot too late or too early, you can end up with a lot of blur in your pictures. While I otherwise like the picture above, you can see some blur throughout the picture. Shooting a little bit earlier, even 15 minutes, would have resulted in a much sharper image. However, you can get some very stylized pictures if you find the right light source. You probably aren’t going to get great portrait photos if you don’t live in a city. But, if you take a page out of Brandon Woelfel’s book you can get some super interesting pictures using neon signs and lights around the city.

Golden Hour

shot during golden hour

Just like the story of Goldy Locks, if one thing is “too hot” one thing is “too cold” then in the middle is probably “just right”. And that’s exactly what golden hour is. It’s that time between when the light is too harsh, and when there isn’t enough light. In the picture above I was able to use a high enough shutter speed to get a non-blurry picture, but the light across her face isn’t as harsh and doesn’t create as harsh of a contrast.

If you’d like to see some more of my portrait pictures, check out my portrait gallery before you take off. If you’re not sure exactly when golden hour is, check out this Calculator page and find when Golden Hour is for your location.


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