Golden Hour Photography

Have you ever thought about the most important factor of photography? It’s not the camera, you can even use a matchbox to capture a photo. It’s not the photographer — you can always use a timer. It’s the light. No matter natural or artificial, there’s no photo without it. And when do you get the best light?

Golden hour.

What is Golden Hour?

Golden hour is a short window of time which happens twice a day — after sunrise and just before the sunset. It is especially loved by landscape and portrait photographers, however all kinds of photographers can take benefit from the beautiful light. Of course the beautiful golden light won’t occur if the sky is completely overcast so it’s crucial to take the weather conditions into account.

Golden hour is a colloquial term so it’s not determined easily. However, the warm sunlight that is characteristic for the golden hour most likely occurs when the Sun is between 6 degrees below and 6 degrees above the horizon. By this definition, the golden hour begins with civil dawn in the morning and ends with civil dusk in the evening. This is also greatly influenced by the time of year and location.
Northerly places, such as Iceland and Norway, are famous for their exceptionally long sunrises and sunsets. The golden hour in winter and summer lasts much longer than an hour in such locations. Destinations closer to the equator, on the other hand, are known for their swift sunrises and sunsets; they’ll experience much shorter golden hours.

Why Is the Light Golden?
When the Sun is just above the horizon, its rays impact the Earth at a low angle and they have to travel through more of the Earth’s atmosphere before they reach us. On their way to the Earth’s surface, they encounter atmospheric particles such as dust and water droplets, which filter the sunlight, ultimately making it less bright. This process also adds more indirect light to the mix, softening contours and reducing the contrast.
At the same time, the thicker layer of atmosphere that the sunlight has to pass through scatters the blue and violet wavelengths, allowing more light in the orange and red spectrum to reach Earth. This scattering decreases the sunlight’s color temperature and makes it take on a golden or reddish hue.

Making the most out of golden hour
Golden hour doesn’t happen every day. It will most probably happen on clear days with just a few clouds, while overcast weather will definitely block all the light. Rain or rainstorms are also not in your favor. However don’t miss your chance — you can have the most beautiful golden hour just after the rain when the sky is clear of any dust or particles.

Arrive Early
Time is fleeting — especially during the golden hour. Your window of time will be short so try getting on-site and set up early to maximize the time you have to shoot.

Find a Good Spot
First, you’ll want to scout out a good location early. You’ll want to determine where the sun rises, or sets –depending on whether you’re planning a morning or afternoon shoot, and ensure that you’re on-site and ready when it arrives. You’ll also want to consider getting hold of an app like ours — Phototime Golden Hour which will help you to calculate the time and duration of sunrise, sunset, and other sunlight phases –in different locations.

Start with the front light

You can start by trying some front light shots. The light should not be as harsh and unpleasant as the noon light. Try to avoid creating shadows from nose, etc — they are difficult for retouching.

Photo by Francisco Delgado @francistogram

Experiment with the backlighting

The golden back light is a perfect dropdown for your model. You can try different angles, som sun flares or hiding the sun behing person, trees etc.

Create silhouettes

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Family silhouettes Photo by Marcel Scheid

This is also an ideal time for capturing silhouettes. By angling your camera so that the sun is obscured by an object, you can capture a silhouette. Adjust your aperture to f/8 (or higher), and increase your shutter speed so that the subject is underexposed –a dark silhouette!

Experiment with rim lighting

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Photo by Jonathan Borba @jonathanborba

Try to focus on a subject with the sun slightly behind them, you will get beautiful rim lighting. This way you can separate the subject from the background to add more depths and extra emphasis to help your subject really stand out from the background.

Early Morning Mist

Early morning mist is beautifully highlighted during golden hour. If you’re fortunate enough to have a foggy morning, head out to photograph the sun coming up. This time of day is ideal for capturing the rays of light streaming beautifully ethereal images through the mist.

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Photo by Dawid Zawiła @davealmine

Capture bokeh

Golden hour is also perfect for capturing bokeh –those out-of-focus spheres of light. To capture bokeh, use a wide aperture and try to compose your image so that the sun or light source is in the background.

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Photo by @foto_babie_lato

Final word

Most importantly remember that golden hour is time to relax and enjoy photography. Not for stressing and chasing the perfect picture. Remember to share with us your best pictures with a hasthtag @phototime_app. Have fun and keep shooting!


  • Alexander Nichev


    • pawel

      Thanks Alexander! Feel free to share any yours tips or tricks!

    • Glenn Eliassen

      I have just recently became more serious about photography. And the Phototime app is a huge help to becoming a better photographer.Thank you for this article.

  • Roberto


  • Saravana Raja M

    Excellent and simple. Every one understood this article.

  • Peter Gorissen

    Very usefull tips, thanks

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