A young man in hiking attire squatting on some boulders while using his camera on a tripod to capture the golden hour sunset in front of him.

5 Tips to Improve Your Golden Hour Photography

The golden hour – the mythical, magical time of day about one hour after the sun rises and one before it sets. Photographers of all genres love capturing people and places in this enchanting light because it produces an ethereal, warm glow that no other time of day can deliver.

If you’ve just started dabbling with the golden hours or would like to improve your golden hour photography, you’ve come to the right place. These tips will help you squeeze every minute out of the 60 you have and capture the ideal light before it rises too high or slips into evening.

1. Use a Sunrise/Sunset Calculator

To know when exactly the golden hour is you’ll want to consider the season, weather, and your location. All of these factors can change the magic hour and how long it actually is. You may not have a full 60 minutes in the winter months or if you’re located near the equator, for example.

To help you get the most accurate information, consult a sunrise/sunset calculator, which will show your location’s time of sunrise and sunset, dusk, dawn, and twilight times, day length, altitude, and much more.

You’ll also want to take a look at the weather forecast, as rain or clouds can affect how long the golden hour lasts (if it happens at all).

A shot from behind a bride and groom holding hands as they approach a stone staircase leading to a lake with the sun setting over it in Laguna Gloria in Austin, Texas. Photograph by Austin, Texas wedding photographer Nikk Nguyen.

2. Get to Your Location Early

Golden hour photography is not a spur-of-the-moment kind of thing. You’ll want to get to your photo location well before the sun rises or sets so you have time to set up your gear and be ready by the time the golden hour begins.

Like Kairos, this beautiful hour is fleeting and will not wait around for you to figure out everything. Remember to point your camera towards where the sun will be, rather than where it is whenever you get to your location. If you’re photographing a subject at the sunrise golden hour, you’ll want to arrange your frame to the east. If you’re photographing a subject at the sunset golden hour, you’ll need to set your camera to the west.

A hand holding a camera lens.

3. Use a Graduated Neutral Density Filter

Managing the light in a scene is often a challenge for many photographers, which is why the golden hour is such a blessing. Because the contrast between the light and shadows isn’t as extreme during golden hours, it’s much easier to balance the exposure.

But sometimes contrast is tough to manage even during the golden hour. This is usually a problem on especially bright days when trying to photograph a landscape or the sky itself.

To help lessen the light on bright days or in certain scenes, consider using a graduated neutral density filter (ND grads). These little helpers are rectangular pieces of resin or glass that hold back light so that the brightest part of the scene isn’t overexposed. Essentially, it keeps the details of the sky by balancing the light between the sky and the foreground. They can also help create the look of smooth, soft and white waterscapes.

4. Choose the Best Aperture

The golden hour gives photographers an opportunity to use a wide aperture, which will create dreamy bokeh – the blurred points of light that appear in the out-of-focus background. This is especially beautiful when shooting portraits, as the person takes center stage against a backdrop of dew-like light.

If you are shooting landscapes or architecture, you may need to narrow the aperture in order to get all parts of the photo in focus.

A portrait of a groom behind the bride with his left arm on her waist and his right arm holding her bouquet as he kisses her on the neck and the sun is setting behind them in Austin, Texas. Photograph by Austin, Texas wedding photographer Nikk Nguyen.

5. Don’t Stop Shooting

The light changes quickly during the golden hour, so a photo you take in the first five minutes will look different 20 minutes later. To take full advantage of the hour, keep shooting to capture as many variations as possible.

The soft, glowing, warm light that the golden hour offers photographers is perfect for playing creatively with the sunlight as it rises and sets. Use these tips to help you capture everything from backlighting and sunbursts to side lighting and lens flare. You might find that your golden hour photos are some of the best you’ve ever taken.

Related: Golden Hour Photos (What They Are and How They Can Transform Your Wedding Gallery)

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