Proper lighting is the foundation of photography, whether you’re taking portraits, capturing the landscape, or snapping selfies. You can make use of natural and artificial light to improve your photography, but one of the easiest ways to make your images stand out is to take advantage of the golden hour, which occurs just after sunrise and before sunset.
Here’s what you need to know about the golden hour so that you can take advantage of warm, glowing light to create stunning photos.
What is the golden hour in photography?
The golden hour is the period just after the sun rises and before the sun sets. This is when you can expect a softer light with highlights of orange and red hues, as opposed to midday light, which can be harsh and unforgiving. Warm, golden-hour light is perfect for many different types of photography, including landscapes, cityscapes, macro photography, and portraits.
When is the golden hour?
The golden hour isn’t exactly an hour — the timeframe for that beautiful light depends on your geographical location. The closer you live to the equator, the shorter your golden “hour” will be. If you want to take advantage of golden-hour lighting, schedule your photoshoots near sunrise or sunset with plenty of extra time to find a good location and set up your shot.
Golden hour calculator apps for iPhone
If you want to know exactly when to take advantage of the golden hour in your area, try an app. Free apps will work if you want a simple sun tracker that will help you choose the right time to go outside for a photoshoot. Premium versions of the apps below will add weather tracking, moon cycles, and accurate location tracking. Here are a few good ones that we recommend.
Alpenglow: Golden hour app that predicts the quality of the sunset
Alpenglow is a free app that gives you sunset and sunrise times and the golden-hour time frame but also predicts the quality of the sunset for your exact location for today and tomorrow. You can set notifications to alert you up to two hours before the golden hour so you never miss a shot. If you want to predict the reliability of visible sunrises and sunsets further in the future, you can purchase Alpenglow Pro.
Magic Hour: A free app for planning golden hour photoshoots
Magic Hour is a free app that pulls up the sun, moon, and weather information based on your iPhone’s GPS. All the information you need to plan your golden hour photography session can be accessed on a single screen that you can scroll through.
The first thing you see when you open Magic Hour is a large countdown clock telling you how many hours and minutes remain until the golden hour begins. You can also see the position of the sun, the time the sun will set and rise, the current weather forecast, and the time of the moonrise and the moonset.
The free version of Magic Hour gives you lots of information for your current location, but you won’t be able to look up information on other locations unless you pay for the premium version.
Solarwatch: A beautiful visual for predicting the golden hour
While Solarwatch provides the same information as the other apps mentioned here, it gets extra points for its beautiful graphics and its ability to predict temperature and weather patterns in your location.
Solarwatch gives you information on sunrise and sunset times, civil and nautical twilight, and length of day for more accurate predictions. You can also change the location to view sunrise and sunset times for different parts of the world. Finally, Solarwatch allows you to view the shortest and longest days of the year for your location. The premium version of Solarwatch shows you the path of the sun and gives you the true sunrise and sunset based on your altitude and terrain.
How the golden hour improves your iPhone photos
Using the golden hour is an easy way to take better photos without changing anything about your technique. All you have to do is adjust the time of day that you get outside with your camera. Here’s why the golden hour allows you to take better photos.
Shadows during golden hour are softer
Harsh shadows with distinct lines are common when the sun is high in the sky. If you don’t pay attention to these shadows when shooting, they can totally ruin your shot. During the golden hour, the shadows are softer and longer, and the contrast is less pronounced, allowing your camera to capture more depth and dimension in your photos
Blue light is filtered out
The atmosphere filters sunlight during the golden hour when the sun is lower in the sky. Hues of red and orange are highlighted, and harsher blue light is filtered out. This effect creates the warm glow that makes golden-hour photographs so inviting.
Your photo will be more evenly exposed
As the sun sinks toward or rises above the horizon, the light becomes diffused with reduced intensity. In addition to softer contrasts, your photo will be blessed with shadows and highlights that are more evenly exposed. This magical effect will allow you to get by with very little editing.
Tips for golden hour photography
Are you ready to make the most of the golden hour to take better photos? Here are a few tips that will allow you to use that beautiful warm light to your advantage.
1. Plan your golden hour photoshoot in advance
The golden hour may not be exactly an hour, but it certainly goes by fast when you’re taking photos. In preparation for your golden hour photoshoot, plan exactly where you’re going and what equipment you will be using. This way, you don’t waste valuable time trying to find the right spot or the right gear. Use one of the apps mentioned above to time your shoot, and be sure to arrive early to take in your scene and prepare without rushing.
2. Try lighting your subject from the side
When capturing a portrait or another strong focal subject, try positioning your camera so that the sun is hitting your subject from the side. This is one of the most striking golden hour positions for portraits because much of the subject’s face is washed in a warm glow, while part of the face is within a soft shadow. A similar effect can be achieved with architecture, trees, or other prominent landscape features.
3. Be prepared for cloudy days
Clouds will change the entire look of your photos. Sometimes clouds will further diffuse the light, making for some really interesting effects, but they can often block out the light entirely, making your golden hour photoshoot a total wash. Check the local weather report before planning your outing, and if the clouds don’t cooperate, simply modify your plan and hope for the best.
4. The morning golden hour is better for landscapes
Want to capture wild landscapes or nature scenes without crowds of people? Set your alarm for a morning golden hour photoshoot. Plenty of photographers venture out every day to capture the sunset, but far fewer are early risers. Head out with your camera during the early morning hours, while everyone else is still sleeping or getting ready for work. Morning lighting is especially effective when you are trying to capture a clean image without a lot of traffic or distractions.
5. Use a tripod when capturing the golden hour
Using a tripod during your photoshoot will ensure that your images are crisp and clear. Golden-hour light is always changing, and at some point during your photoshoot, you will be using your camera in low-light conditions. To avoid camera shake during this critical time frame, set your phone or camera up on a tripod and use a remote shutter to take your photos.
Are you ready to do a little “light stalking”? The more you prioritize the golden hour in photography, the more you will appreciate it, allowing you to use it to your advantage.