Photography Lighting

What is Golden Hour?

Photo of author
Written By Nate Torres

As you step out onto the balcony, the world around you is bathed in a warm, golden glow.

The tranquil beauty of the scene captivates your senses, and you can’t resist the urge to capture this magical moment.

Welcome to the world of golden hour in photography, where nature paints the world with its most enchanting hues.

In this article, we will explore what golden hour is, why it is a beloved time for photographers, and how you can harness its ethereal light to create stunning photographs.

So, grab your camera, and let’s embark on a journey to discover the secrets of the golden hour.

Let’s dive in!

What is Golden Hour?

The term “Golden Hour” refers to the short window of time usually right after sunrise and right before sunset. The golden hour can be identified by the smooth golden hue of the sky, reflected on the ground, which makes for a perfectly flattering condition for taking pictures of just about anything: from landscapes to self-portraits.

The golden hue is created by the low position of the sun.

The sunlight is a beautiful ambient light that is diffused and filtered by the atmosphere and sometimes fog, which makes the sunlight appear softer and a little bit redder.

The golden hour is short, and won’t cast any harsh or unflattering shadows. 

Because of this naturally flattering and beautiful light, taking pictures during the golden hour usually results in better-looking pictures.

Golden hour example
golden hour example

You don’t have to go out of your way to avoid common photography problems that usually occur at other times during the day, such as harsh shadow and chromatic aberration.

This is because the golden hour radiates smooth light, which is pretty similar to the lighting usually found in studios.

It helps to soften the appearance of skin textures, which makes it just the perfect lighting for self-portraits. 

When is Golden Hour?

The exact timing of golden hour can vary depending on your location and the time of year, but it generally occurs during the first hour after sunrise and the last hour before sunset.

To get a more precise time for golden hour in your specific location and on a particular date, you can use various online tools or mobile apps that calculate the times for sunrise and sunset.

These tools often provide information about golden hour and other lighting conditions for photographers and outdoor enthusiasts.

Here are some of my favorite tools to check when Golden Hour will occur in my current location:


Why Do People Love Golden Hour?

People love golden hour for several reasons, and its popularity is largely attributed to the unique and visually appealing qualities of the light during this time of day:

1. Warm and Soft Light

During golden hour, the sunlight is warm and soft, which creates a pleasing and flattering quality of light.

This gentle light minimizes harsh shadows and highlights, making subjects look more attractive and natural in photographs.

2. Enhanced Colors

The warm, golden hue of the light can enhance the colors of the surrounding landscape and objects, making them appear more vibrant and rich.

This can lead to stunning and visually appealing photographs.

3. Mood and Atmosphere

Golden hour light often adds a sense of warmth, comfort, and nostalgia to a scene, which can evoke certain emotions and create a specific mood or atmosphere in photographs.

Many people find this quality of light romantic and enchanting.

4. Long Shadows and Depth

The angle of the sun during golden hour creates long shadows and depth in photographs, which can add interest, dimension, and a sense of drama to the composition.

5. Ideal for Portraits

Photographers often favor golden hour for portrait sessions because the soft, warm light is very flattering for skin tones.

It helps to reduce blemishes and imperfections while adding a natural glow to the subject’s face.

6. Magical Landscapes

Golden hour can transform ordinary landscapes into extraordinary and magical scenes.

It’s a time when even the most mundane locations can look stunning and captivating.

7. Photographic Opportunities

The unique lighting conditions during golden hour present numerous opportunities for creative and artistic photography.

Photographers can experiment with silhouettes, backlit subjects, and other techniques to capture stunning images.

Speaking of photography opportunies, here are my tips to use when photographing in golden hour.

6 Golden Hour Photography Tips

Even though the golden hour happens twice a day, it only happens around an hour each.

And if you are at all experienced with photography, you may already guess that an hour is not a very long time to get the perfect picture.

When we rely on natural lighting, it can change quickly and you may be able to take the same picture twice.

So, to make sure that you make the most of this short window of golden hour, make sure that you follow the following tips:

1. Plan your Shoot

Planning is key. Before you shoot in a new area, you should go and observe the area first to get to know the landscape better, its direction of light, and other factors so that you can properly plan your shoot.

By having an understanding of the location, you are able to arrive early before the shooting time and set up your camera. 

If you want to shoot around sunrise, this means you need to go to the location and set up your camera while it’s still dark.

And if you want to shoot around the sunset, you can go earlier in the afternoon and try to capture several pictures to get a better idea of the best angles you want to take.

Since the golden hour happens for only a short amount of time, you may not be able to move to different locations so you better plan your shoot to get as many pictures as possible in an area from different angles.

Plan Shoot for golden hour
plan your photoshoot ahead of time

2. Adjust your Camera Setting

When setting up your camera, you may also need to adjust your camera setting.

For example, when shooting during the golden hour, it is recommended to use the manual White Balance setting instead of Auto White Balance (AWB).

The reasoning behind this is that the White Balance will balance out the lighting in the picture so the result will appear bluer.

You will lose that amazing golden hue and defeat the whole purpose of shooting during golden hour. 

Even when you shoot RAW, which can be easily altered in the post-production process, it is better to turn off the AWB for a more realistic scene on the review screen.

So you have a better idea of the final result.

3. Use a Wide Aperture

Golden Hour is perfect for taking portraits. You can adjust the magical effect even more by using a wider aperture.

By shooting your object with a wider aperture and shallow depth of field, you will be able to create a dreamy bokeh effect with the focus of the object that is beautifully bathed in sunlight.

Are you a beginner photographer and still uncomfortable with adjusting your camera settings? Don’t worry. You can set your camera to aperture priority mode.

This mode will allow you to choose the aperture and the camera will automatically determine the best ISO and shutter speed for you.

Don’t forget to set your ISO on auto mode to make this work.

4. Use Spot Metering

Spot metering is a feature you can find on modern cameras that allow you to measure the amount of light around you so you can choose the right setting to get the best exposure.

Sometimes, the exposure considered perfect by this mode is not always what you’re looking for.

So, you’ll still need to perform more tweaks and adjustments yourself.

The good thing about spot metering is that it allows you to focus on the main thing you want to focus on such as your object.

This may result in overexposing the scene surrounding the object, but during the golden hour, this can create a beautiful result.

Spot Metering
golden hour example

5. Play with Different Types of Lighting

There is a range of different lighting types you can choose from here.

The good thing about the golden hour is that you can play and experiment with different types of lighting in one location.

Golden Hour makes it possible for you to take pictures with front lighting.

This is because the light is soft enough for the models to directly face the sun, which is the primary light source of the shoot. 

You can also create beautiful backlit photos during the golden hour.

This is perfect when the sun is still slightly high in the sky and will create a thin line of light around the object.

This will give the illusion as if the object is glowing while the background is blurred and hazy. This lighting type is similar to rim/edge lighting.

But on rim/edge lighting, the line appears even brighter against a darker background and gives the illusion of separation between the object and the background.

You can also create the flare effect. Flare is one of the lighting modes often used during the golden hour.

This lighting type can be achieved by intentionally placing the object to partially cover the sun in order to create beautiful flares.

You can also create beautiful silhouette photos by placing the object in between the camera and the sun.

The object will block the light from entering your camera resulting in the object appearing as a silhouette.

You can create full silhouette photography or play around to show other details and not only shadows.

silhouette golden hour
golden hour silhouette photo

6. Work Quickly

We all know that the golden hour doesn’t last very long, usually less than an hour. During these 60 minutes, the lighting and the weather can change very quickly.

You can get one beautiful shot in a minute and lose the light the next minute.

This is why you need to work as effectively and efficiently as possible. Try to come an hour early before the golden hour so you can practice what you try to capture.

So when the golden hour is happening, you can just retake the shot you already practiced. This way, you can save a lot of time and take many more pictures.

To further explore some tips (mainly portrait tips) for golden hour photography, check out this in-depth video by Manny Garcia:

Take better GOLDEN HOUR portraits | Natural light Photography Tutorial

What Time is Golden Hour?

It really depends on where you are in the world.

People who live on tropical islands (around the equator) would be able to enjoy the golden hour at a different time from, say, people living in the northern hemisphere. 

It also depends on the time of year and what season you are currently experiencing.

For example, the time you experience the golden hour in summer will be different from the golden hour during the fall.

It also depends on the weather that day. 

If you want to find the precise timing, you can try to use the golden hour calculator.

You may get the approximation time result but you need to remember that in real life, you may not always be able to use this result because nature can be unpredictable sometimes.

The rule of thumb for the golden hour is that it usually occurs around an hour after sunrise and an hour before sunset.

Check your local sunrise and sunset time. This is especially useful if you’re traveling to different cities or countries.

You may need to check on the sunrise and sunset time in that area if you don’t want to miss the magic of the golden hour.

What Is So Special about Golden Hour?

The golden hour is special—and this isn’t an exaggeration or a cliché. It really does live up to its hype!  As we all know, lighting is one of the key factors in photography.

We cannot produce good pictures without good lighting conditions. And if you opt for natural light, the golden hour is your best bet. Here’s why:

1. Bright Yet Detailed

The golden hour has its special qualities. It is still bright enough to catch details, but also soft enough to avoid the harsh shadow you often get on middays.

Because of its golden hue and soft nature, pictures taken during this time will appear more beautiful no matter if it’s a human model or a landscape.

2. Reflective

The soft golden light is also reflected on every object it touches such as the clouds, the eyes, buildings, and water to name a few.

3. Warm

The golden hour also has a warm flattering touch, so it is perfect for capturing an object’s warmth.

During the golden hour, the sun is low on the horizon and it can create a soft long shadow that creates dimension to your pictures.

You cannot create this kind of dimension at other times of the day. It is pretty difficult unless you are using artificial studio lights. 

One of the benefits of shooting in the golden hour is that the light is soft so it is perfect for portraits.

Not only will it make the skin look softer, but it will allow the models to face the sun without squinting so you can explore more poses. It’s a win-win situation!

golden hour example
golden hour portrait

Is the Golden Hour Every Day?

Theoretically, if the golden hour happens after sunrise and before sunset, then the answer to this question should be yes because sunrise and sunset happen every day, right?

Well, sadly, in reality, you may not be able to enjoy the golden hour every day.

There are a few factors that are key to making the golden hour appear, all of which are unfortunately out of your control. 

Golden Hour Depends on the Weather

One of them is good weather: when the weather is good, you are more likely to enjoy the golden hour. 

But the weather is not always constant, and we all know that some days are just not as nice as others. For example, rainy days. 

Days when the sky is covered by thick, dark clouds. Days when the sun simply refuses to show up.

Nature has its own rules and can change very quickly as well.

You may feel like the weather that day is good, and predict that the golden hour will for sure be there, but just moments before it occurs, the weather decides to change!

Well, when that happens, there’s really nothing you can do except wait for another day when you’re lucky.

This is also what makes the golden hour even more special because you can never guarantee when you can enjoy it!

Golden Hour vs. Blue Hour

Aside from golden hour, there is also something called blue hour. Now that we know what the golden hour is, it’s time to talk a little bit about the blue hour.

If the golden hour occurs after sunrise and before sunset, then the blue hour happens right before sunrise and after sunset.

To be exact, blue hour happens when the sun is just right under the horizon and produces a cooler tone.

blue hour example city
blue hour

Although they appear at almost the same time, the golden hour and the blue hour have very distinct differences, especially in mood.

While the golden hour offers warmth and magical feels, the blue hour offers a cooler and slightly darker mood.

Now, which one is better? It depends on each photographer’s preferences. And also, what kind of story he/she wants to tell behind their image.

This has a lot to do with your photography style and of course, the photo concept you aim to obtain.

Also notably, the blue hour may be a little bit harder to catch because it lasts for an even shorter period than the golden hour.

The blue hour appears when the sun is already below the horizon. Soon it will set and the blue hour begins.

But in general, both lighting has their own difficulties and can give you beautiful results.

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Final Remarks

Thanks for reading. We hope you learned something new about Golden Hour!

Frequently Asked Questions

How long is golden hour before sunset?

Golden hour typically occurs in the hour leading up to sunset. The exact duration may vary depending on factors such as the time of year, location, and weather conditions, but it generally provides a window of soft, warm, and flattering light that photographers eagerly anticipate for capturing breathtaking images.

How do you get golden hour in photos?

To capture the golden hour in photos, position yourself and your subject in a location where the light from the setting sun is visible and softly illuminates the scene. Use the warm, golden light to enhance the mood and atmosphere of your photographs, experimenting with composition, backlighting, and capturing the rich colors and long shadows that are characteristic of this magical time.

How does golden hour affect a photo?

Golden hour has a transformative effect on photos, creating a warm and soft quality of light that adds a captivating and magical atmosphere. It bathes the scene in a golden glow, enhances colors, adds depth and dimension through long shadows, and imparts a sense of warmth and serenity to the overall composition, making it a sought-after time for photographers to capture stunning images.