The golden hour is a name used to define two different times of day when the light has a distinctive look to it that is not found during any other time. The golden hour occurs very close to the blue hour and both lighting situations are heavily sought after by photographers.
What is the Golden Hour
The golden hour is one of two specific times each day when the light tends to appear very bright and create a golden cast to the landscape. At this time the color temperature trends towards the cooler range around 4000Kelvin instead of the white light of the 5000Kelvin range. This shift in lighting moves the white balance over to the warmer tones. In spite of what the camera may perceive as low light levels, the golden hour lighting appears very intense and produces vibrate color tones not found at any other time of day.
When is the Golden Hour?
The golden hour, much like the blue hour, doesn’t actually last a full hour. Generally, the very intense light photographers seek during the golden hour only lasts about 30 minutes at the most. However, the golden hour is considered to be from sunrise to one hour after and one hour before sunset until sunset and golden hour calculator tools are available for finding out optimum shooting times. For example, if the sun sets at 5PM, the golden hour would be measured from 4PM to 5PM. If the sun rises at 5AM, look for the golden hour from 5:00AM to 6:00AM. Exactly when the “sweet spot” of the golden hour light will occur within these windows is harder to predict so it is best to plan to arrive early and be prepared to wait for the right moment to trip the shutter.
How do I Take Golden Hour Photos?
Taking photos within the golden hour can easily be done handheld without a tripod. While the light is deceptively low, there should still be plenty of light for a handheld shot…as long as you aren’t using a very long lens. Expect exposure times of 1/250 down to 1/30 depending on the subject, your location, and aperture. The best golden hour photos are taken with the sun behind the photographer so that the full force of the gold tinted light falls directly on the side of the subject facing the camera.
What Should I Photograph During the Golden Hour?
The best golden hour photography subjects are things that work well with golden tint. Portraits, sweeping wheat fields, animal portraits, anything that isn’t going to clash with a golden tint is fine. There isn’t much that doesn’t look great in golden hour light but occasionally you’ll find a subject that just doesn’t work, often the color red can become burnt brown in golden hour light for example. Because you can shoot at hand held shutter speeds you have much wider choices of subject than with the blue hour where still subjects are much more important. Even so, action sports or anything moving quickly (like a running horse) are probably not a great golden hour subject because they move much too fast for the shutter speeds you’ll be using.