Tips for Shooting Golden Hour Photography


Rise and shine! Add a golden touch to your golden hour photography by utilizing these fool-proof tips and techniques. 

The magic of golden hour never fails to impress behind the lens. Light can make all the difference when shooting behind the lens, and that’s exactly why the enchanting warm light of golden hour is preferred among professional photographers and amateurs, alike.

Let’s explore practical tips and techniques for capturing breathtaking golden hour photography every time.

Golden hour is known for producing soft, diffused light. Images via ShriyashBorhade, Denis OREA, Woodhey Production, and Dulin.

Golden hour light pouring over a meadow
Image via Heger.

What Is Golden Hour?

Golden hour is a window of time that occurs twice a day, shortly before sunset and sunrise, when the sun reaches the lowest position in the sky on the horizon.

As the name suggests, the light projected from the sun casts a golden glow on the earth in tones ranging from bright oranges to reddish hues.

The sun’s position in the sky gives golden hour its characteristic look. Compared to other times in the day, golden hour light generates:

  • A softer, more flattering, and diffused light, making it ideal for portraits. 
  • A warm glow that radiates happiness and calm.
  • A directional source of light, making it easier to shoot backlit, front-lit, and side-lit shots.

Together, these characteristics make up golden hour photography and can elevate the results of your shot.

Golden hour occurs just before sunrise and sunset. Images via Nuchylee, Christopher Moswitzer, JoeMarano, Emily Skeels, and Junial Enterprises.

Senior photographer walking with his tripod through a field at sunset
Image via In The Light Photography.

Best Camera Settings

Choosing the right camera settings for golden hour photography depends on several factors. Because the light changes so quickly during golden hour, you’ll need to adjust your settings as the light evolves.

Manual mode, however, is non-negotiable. It’s a key part of capturing better golden hour photos as it means you’re truly in charge of every setting. Having complete control gives you a greater capacity to achieve the stylistic results you visualize.

In portrait golden hour photography, start with a large aperture (low f-stop), around f/1.8 to f/2.8, which will keep your subject in focus while helping to achieve a blurry background.

If you’re capturing a group portrait or landscape shot, it’s best to opt for a smaller aperture (high f-stop) to ensure everyone and everything in the frame is in focus.

Soviet retro photo camera Smena 8M on a table in warm light of golden hour
Having complete control of your camera settings is essential when shooting golden hour photography. Image via Alina Prokudina.

Setting your camera to aperture priority mode is also an option. It gives you full control of your camera’s aperture while your camera selects the shutter speed. With or without aperture priority mode, make sure your shutter speed is 1/30 or 1/60.

As for your ISO (your camera’s sensitivity to light), it’s best to start low to reduce the amount of image noise in your shot.

Anywhere between ISO 100 and ISO 400 is recommended, which will help you retain the quality of your shots. As the sun goes down, it may be necessary to increase the ISO as the sunlight wanes.

When light levels are low, it makes it harder for your camera to focus. A tripod becomes even more necessary as the sun sinks on the horizon.


6 Tips for Capturing Golden Hour Magic

1. Establish Where the Sun Rises and Sets

Remember that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west? Well, keep that in mind when deciding on where and when to shoot. You’ll find some places offer far better sunrises than sunsets (and vice versa) if they’re located in either of those directions.

For example, the lighthouse in Byron Bay, Australia, offers majestic views any time of the day, but nothing tops the view—from Australia’s most eastern point—at sunrise.

Before you go out and take photos, figure out where exactly the sun rises and sets, and scout the best locations to take photos from. Handy phone apps such as Sunrise Sunset help you pinpoint where the sun will rise and set in a particular location.

Sunset light shining on the buildings and cars on 42nd Street in Midtown New York City around the time of the Manhattanhenge summer solstice
Knowing where the sun rises and sets means you’re better prepared to capture the sun at its best. Image via Ryan DeBerardinis.

2. Get There Early 

It’s called golden hour, but in reality, you’re working with much less time than that. Golden hour doesn’t start until approximately thirty to forty minutes before the sun rises or sets, leaving you a small window of time to shoot.

To make every minute count, you’ll need to get to your shoot location early to set up your equipment. After all, any time you spend preparing at your location during golden hour means less time shooting.

Early bird catches the worm in golden hour photography. Images via Lanski, maxbelchenko, Irene Shy, Petr Kahanek, and Gilang Gepemoto.

3. Shoot Continuously

Aside from working within a limited period of time to capture the golden hour light, another challenge is how the light rapidly evolves.

At sunset, the sun will start to fall quite quickly, meaning the light will change quickly, too. It’s best not to spend too much time setting up the perfect shot and just shoot continuously while the light is falling.

Shoot as many photos as possible to ensure you get the shot. Images via Natalia Bostan and Natalia Bostan

4. Add or Remove Lens Flares

Lens flares can be perceived as a blessing or a curse in golden hour photography. Whether to include lens flares or not ultimately boils down to your stylistic preferences.

Sometimes, they can interfere with your shots, making them undesirable. A lens hood is a good way to shield your camera’s sensor away from the glare of the sun’s rays.

Don’t have a lens hood? Simply reposition yourself behind the lens until you no longer see lens flares in your viewfinder and proceed to shoot.

Work with or against lens flares. Images via Hong_Phuc, Pablo Calvog, and Trystan Koyama.

Other times, lens flares can be quite beautiful. They can provide an enchanting look to your photography while emphasizing the sun’s golden rays.

To capture lens flares, have your subject stand with their back facing the sun. Once your subject is in position, move around until you catch lens flares in your viewfinder by turning your lens towards the sun and snap away.

Since the sun is shining from behind your subject, it’s important to note that you may find that your subject appears dark, or you’re only able to make out their silhouette. There are several ways to overcome the challenges of backlit photos, all of which involve redistributing light.

5. Redistribute Light 

As mentioned, photographing against the sun means many of your photos may end up backlit. This means your subject is lit from the back and not from the front.

Backlit light is perfect for shooting silhouette photography but presents a challenge if you don’t want your subject to be cast entirely in the dark.

Backlit portrait of a woman in a field at sunset
Redistribute the light to areas of the photo that need it. Image via Wilhelm van Zyl.

However, enabling your spot metering can help offset backlighting by adjusting the exposure to the light bouncing off the subject’s face.

In addition, a reflector can also come in handy in low-light situations by redistributing the light to areas of the shot that need it. A flash with a diffuser can also do the trick.

6. Shoot Silhouettes 

Golden hour is one of the best times for silhouette photography. As discussed, having your subject stand with their back turned towards the sun and shooting in the sun’s direction makes it possible to shoot some outstanding silhouette photography.

Mastering silhouette photography takes time and requires developing a strong eye for it. Shooting strong forms is favored over shooting unidentifiable shapes as this will likely engage your viewer’s attention. Ensuring you capture silhouettes of discernible shapes is always best.

Golden hour provides the perfect backdrop for silhouette photography. Images via MaxStrogiy, Anastasiia Voloshko, Apins, and Miguel Lifestyle.

So, there you have it! Golden hour photography might produce beautiful natural light that’s easy to work with, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t ways you can elevate your work even further.

Having a game plan and knowing how to execute it is key, so keep these tips in mind to fully explore and tap into the magic of golden hour photography.


Cover image via Rouse and Fable.



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