What Is Golden Hour and How to Use It in Your Photography

A group of people laugh during the golden hour

A group of friends relish the last rays of sunlight of the day. Photo by Priscilla Du Preez

Calculating Golden Hour

Although the golden hour is not a set amount of time, there are ways to track when it will happen near you.

There are many apps for photographers that can be useful. Most weather apps should tell you the times of sunrise and sunset at your desired location. You can work out roughly the best time to set up and take the shot from that.

A car travelling through rolling hills at sunset

Evening sunlight can light up a scene, just like this. Photo by Nick Jio

If you want more precise results, you could consult a golden hour calculator, which calculates exact details of the golden hour in your location from longitude and latitude coordinates. It shows you the minute when the magic hour starts and when it ends. It’s an incredibly useful tool for photographers who are serious about their art.

A young girl blows dandelion clocks during golden hour

A young girl blows dandelion clocks during golden hour. Photo by Johannes Plenio

Plan your Shoot in Advance

Landscape photography and portrait photography are the two main genres of photography which benefit most from the golden hour.

Whichever type you shoot, it’s important to plan your session properly.

Check the golden hour times of your destination and scout out your location beforehand. Walk around the area, check out possible vantage points, snap some test shots and figure out where the sunset will be on the horizon.

The Golden Hour in Landscape Photography

Landscape photography lends itself beautifully to the golden hour. Entire vistas can be transformed by the low angle light; shadows are longer, which add depth and texture to the scene, and the landscape will be lit with a lovely warm glow.

It’s the best time of the day for long exposure photography thanks to the low light available, but you will need to bring a tripod. A longer exposure will smooth out the water and extend the clouds. That means it’s the perfect time to shoot waves, rivers, waterfalls and other moving subjects, such as people or cars.

A long exposure of a sunset over water during the golden hour

A long exposure at sunset smoothes out the water and extends the clouds. Photo by deejaykow.

You can also photograph silhouettes perfectly during the golden hour, as you will be able to shoot directly into the sun; a task which is virtually impossible at any other time of the day.

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