Golden Hour. Magic Hour. Whatever name you call it, this time of day is universally loved by photographers. 

Even if you are not a photographer, there is no denying the brilliance of this special window of the day. I have been there time and time again and every time I am bedazzled by the light. It leaves us spellbound as it transforms and infuses even the the unlikeliest of subjects and into sublime works of art. 

As photographers we are natural lovers of light. Photography at its core is “light drawing.” And so it is no surprise that when the light is consistently beautiful, we get a little excited!

But what is Golden Hour? And what makes it so darn good ?! Let’s explore this phenomenon together and see how it can add a little magic to our photographs.

amber talbert_young girl with hair blowing in wind at sunset

Golden Hour defined

The simple explanation is that this first hour after sunrise and last hour before sunset. 

At these times of day, the angle of the sun hits about 6 degrees and intermingles with our atmosphere. The water and dust just above the horizon line soften and scatter the blue and violet rays. This scattering creates a warm and visually dimensional glow. 

To our eyes, the results are undeniably beautiful. And in-camera the results are so remarkable that many of us professional photographers and artists have made golden hour an integral part of our style.

child playing with sand in hands at sunset amber talbert

The possibilities of Golden Hour

Low and directional, this soft light can add so much to your photos. No matter the genre you choose to photograph, this light can make it better.

For portraits, Golden Hour magically erases blemishes. The soft, diffused light blurs imperfections and even adds the perfect touch of a glowing tan.

Even more, it can help tap into emotions. Used as dreamy backlight, Golden Hour sun can evoke nostalgia and happiness, and a sense of youth.

Try shooting from different angles to take full advantage of Golden Hour light. See how you can control haze, lens flare, and the color of the light by changing your position in relation to the sun. You will be amazed by the variety of effects you can get!

child playing with water hose at sunset amber talbert

The diversity of Golden Hour 

The light is fleeting and ever changing at this hour. And while it does go fast, this diversity is one of the very reasons we photographers love it!

As the sun moves quickly toward the horizon, we see a rapid change in the angle, color, and intensity of the light. This allows for a diversity in photographic possibilities that might not be available at other times of day.

At the beginning of Golden Hour, you will notice that the light is harder and the shadows are deeper. This is because the sun is hitting your subjects from a higher angle. As the sun moves lower in the sky, the shadows soften.

Even better, each day’s Golden Hour can be different from the next depending on environmental variables. A few clouds can make a big difference in the appearance of Golden Hour light in your camera!

While this variation could make it seem as though Golden Hour is unpredictable and frustrating, I have found it to be a gift! The changing character of the light allows us to tell our story with distinction in each frame. As the light changes throughout the hour, the emotion of our images changes, too.

must haves

OUR GOLDEN HOUR PHOTOGRAPHY ESSENTIALS

sigma 85 mm 1.4 dg hsm art lens

A portrait lens

One of our favorite ways to use Golden Hour light is to use it for portraits. That’s why we love this Sigma 85mm f/1.4 ART lens! It is the perfect focal length for flattering portraits and it makes the most of that warm, dreamy Golden Hour sun.

canon EOS 5D Mark IV full frame Digital SLR camera body

A full frame camera

While there should be plenty of light hitting your sensor with Golden Hour sun, we have found that a full frame camera is much more capable when getting creative with this type of light.

bubbles

Bubbles

We love how environmental elements can add texture and visual interest in Golden Hour photos and bubbles are sure to add fun for your subjects, too!

children playing with bubbles outside at sunset amber talbert

Photographing in Golden Hour

While there is no question that taking photos during Golden Hour is magical, you will want to go into this with a plan.

Be sure to choose a location that takes full advantage of Golden Hour light. While anything looks beautiful during this magical hour, I like to choose a spot that will allow the light to be central to the photograph.

Areas with tall grasses, dusty roads, and leafy trees are all ideal. These environmental elements will add texture to your photos as they catch the light.

When I get to my location, I like to start by finding a playful pocket of light while the sun is at its highest point. Here you can take a variety of images where the light is filtered by trees or peeking out from behind buildings. This light is dramatic and allows you do have distinct separation between your subject(s) in the light and the environment in the shadows.

As the hour moves on, I love to add props that can really highlight the beauty of the light. Flowing dresses, bubbles, and glitter and good to keep on hand as they can filter and reflect the light in a way that really lets it shine.

Be sure to keep an eye on your camera settings as the sun moves toward the horizon. The light will be diminishing and you don’t want to have underexposed images because you forgot to adjust your ISO.

amber_talbert_child floating in open water at sunset

The emotion of Golden Hour light

As photographers, we have the opportunity to be storytellers. As artists we should be compelled to move our viewers with emotion. We can connect people to how they felt in a moment by capturing their memories.

There are many ways to evoke emotion in your photographs. Facial expression, body language, and light all play a role in making the viewer feel.

Golden Hour light is a powerful way to tap into emotion. The warmth of the sun translates to the emotional warmth of a moment. Hazy backlight can feel dreamy and nostalgic. Pockets of light can feel dramatic and theatrical.

The key is to use the light with intention and combine it with all of the other variables of the frame. When you harness Golden Hour in that way, you will create images that are not only beautiful, but also powerful.

child in tulle dress and rainboots walking on dirt path at sunset amber talbert

There is no question why photographers, both hobbyists and professionals, adore Golden Hour. Its beauty is unparalleled. It encourages us to be creative. And it allows us to create photographs that are emotionally driven while also being universally flattering.

The key is to use Golden Hour in a way that coincides with your vision and style. I encourage you to go out with your camera in that first and last hour of the day and experiment. Have fun with that warm light and see what effects you can get in your camera. And discover for yourself why Golden Hour is so magical and why YOU love it.