The Golden Hour:

How to get the most value out of this precious time.

Photo of grass at golden hour by Anton Darius from Unsplash.com

Photo by Anton Darius from Unsplash.com

Just after sunrise and before sunset, light refracting through extra atmosphere creates the “golden hour.” It’s named for the color of light, but the warm, soft glow may also add some value to your images. Here are a few things to keep in mind.

1. Be ready to work fast.

This is no time to wander around looking for something to shoot. Know when the sun sets ahead of time and have a plan. Check the chart for the sunrise and sunset times in our area for the rest of the month. Also, technically, the golden hour may not be an hour long. The quality of light is based on the sun’s location in the sky, so latitude and the time of year figure in to the equation. According to this website, the golden hour in the DFW area currently
lasts 33 minutes. But it’s 57 minutes if you want to shoot in Alaska.

2. Check the weather.

While some clouds at sunset can create exciting drama in the sky, too many can block out the light and greatly reduce the effect of golden hour.

Photo by Joshua Earle from Unsplash.com

Photo by Joshua Earle from Unsplash.com

3. Adjust your white balance.

If you have your camera set to auto white balance, it will probably shift the color temperature of your shot. So the golden hour’s beautiful hues will end up looking a little bluer. Try setting your camera’s white balance to “shady” or “cloudy.” And shoot in RAW to make it easier to do additional adjustments in post.

4. Explore your options.

You can’t position the sun, but you should photograph your subject with the sun’s location in mind.

  • Front lighting: At this time of day, the light is directional but very soft. People and animals can often look toward the sun without squinting, and the light is very kind to faces.
  • Back lighting: Keeping the light behind your subject will often create a warm hazy glow around your subject. Consider using a reflector to fill in the shadows.
  • Rim lighting: If the sun is directly behind your subject, you might get a bright outline that separates it from the background, especially if the background is dark.
  • Silhouette: To accentuate the shape or profile of your subject, you can expose for the light behind it, making the subject go dark.

2020-09-golden-hour-sunflower-portrait5. Play with the light.

Shooting toward the sun opens up some other possibilities for your image.

  • Flares: Position the sun just outside your camera frame and see where the sun creates spots of light in your lens. Putting the sun on the very edge of your subject can also create interesting streaks of light in your image.
  • Haze: If the sun hits your lens directly, you may get cloudy overexposed areas in parts of your image (like the sunflower picture above). This is usually something to be avoided, but it can also create a beautiful glow that works well for some images.
  • Bokeh: If you widen your aperture and shoot toward the sun, you will increase your chances of getting little geometric spots of light in your image. This can really increase that magical feeling and make an average shot really special. See the effect it had on grass on the previous page.

6. Accept the challenge.

The whole point of Procrastinator’s Delight is to force ourselves to try new techniques and just get shooting. Go have some fun!

Time to Reflect: The Story Behind the Photo

By Terry Barnes

"Time to Reflect' sunset photograph of the National Memorial on the Murrah Federal Building site in Oklahoma City by Terry Barnes.

Time to Reflect by Terry Barnes (1/320, f/10, ISO 100)

This spring I learned the PhotoPills app can calculate the dates and times when the sun will be exactly centered down the east-west streets in New York City. I wondered if it could be done in Oklahoma City, specifically at the National Memorial.

The Memorial is located at the site of the former Murrah Federal Building. There is a block-long reflecting pool with “portals” on each end about 10-feet wide by 25- to 30-feet tall. I wanted to center myself on the east end of the pool and have the setting sun centered through the west portal with a reflection on the water.

PhotoPills gave me two possible evenings in September, so I entered the dates into my calendar and waited four months. On September 16, the clouds obstructed the sun, so I
only got a few planning shots.

I returned the next evening to a perfect sky. I set my camera to take a shot every 15 seconds, starting about 10 minutes prior to the “PhotoPills time” and continuing until the sun had crossed the portal. This picture was time stamped within a minute of the time the PhotoPills app had provided. What a smart app!