Golden Hour Photography Guide

Last Updated on May 3, 2021

What Is Golden Hour Photography?

golden hour clouds

Golden Hour is the time of day when the sun’s light is at its most golden. This occurs from just before sunrise and just after sunset.

Golden Hour photography, as the name implies, takes advantage of this special time of day to capture images that are typically filled with a soft warmth and a sense of nostalgia it provides. Golden hour is best suited for portrait photography, nature, and landscapes.

Golden Hour Cloud Photography

A golden hour photograph usually consists of warm, colorful light, and dramatic shadows.

The yellow, orange, and red colors of the sky are the result of sunlight traveling through Earth’s atmosphere to create a dazzling haze that dramatically contrasts with the blue sky.

The warmth in these photographs can be attributed to either the yellow/orange/red sky or the warm brown tones in surrounding foliage. The warmth adds depth as well as a monochrome-esque element that is often used in nature photography and landscape photography.

Capturing cloud photography during golden hour is absolutely gorgeous. To photograph clouds during golden hour, the ideal technique is to wait until the clouds are partially lit by the sun, and then use a long shutter speed to capture cloud movement.

The longer the shutter speed, the slower and more dramatic your clouds will be. Taking photos in this manner will result in either smooth and dreamy cloud movement or high contrast, wispy cloud movement with crisp silhouetted branches or rocks.

You can create several different effects by experimenting with different shutter speeds while shooting during golden hour.

How to Photograph During The Golden Hour

In order to capture the best Golden Hour photographs, here are a few of the tips you should keep in mind.

Golden hour is most strong during early morning hours (around 6AM or 7AM). Any time just after sunrise and sunset. Always use a tripod for long exposures.

Set your ISO as low as possible . You don’t necessarily need to have an expensive camera if you want good results but it helps!

Camera Settings For Golden Hour Photography

Shutter Speed (Long Exposure): You can try 2 seconds, 4 seconds, 8 seconds, and anything longer really. Long exposures will create soft clouds and smooth water.

Aperture/ƒ-Stop: You’ll want to use either ƒ/8 or ƒ/11 to keep as much detail in the photo as possible while still having a decent exposure. This will also help with your camera’s Auto-Focus.

ISO: Try to keep your ISO as low as possible. 200-400 is a good starting point for most cameras.

White Balance: You’ll want to use a setting of Auto or Manual when using a tripod.

Golden Hour Photography Tips

  • Shoot with a tripod.
  • Use a remote shutter release on your camera.
  • Using a polarizing filter eliminates any “glare” from the sky in your photos. (This is especially important when shooting a water landscape scene early in the morning!)
  • Alternatively, shoot with auto-focus only to keep your ISO down and use manual focus after you take the photo to adjust everything else (settings, exposure, etc.). This will minimize any potential camera shake that may occur, but isn’t perfect for most cameras’ auto-focus systems.
  • If you’re taking photos of a landscape, try rotating your camera 90 degrees while using a wide-angle lens. This will make your photo appear as though it were taken at eye level instead of from below.
  • Isolate your subject with a shallow depth of field. This can be done by setting your aperture to anything lower than ƒ/16 (f/22 for example).
  • Experiment with different long exposure times on clouds, water, or any moving object.
  • Try a high ISO setting to minimize the graininess of your photos.
  • You can use a neutral density filter to reduce the amount of light entering your lens. The amount of light you get from your photos will also depend on how well it’s adjusted.
  • Use a polarizing filter for any landscapes, especially early morning.
  • A low horizon line will give the impression of height because the sky will remain as a large part of the photo. This can be achieved by either moving up and away from your subject or by finding a lower spot to shoot from.
  • You’ll want to use a spot meter when attempting to expose for clouds. This will create beautiful contrast between your subject and the clouds in your photos.

Bottom Line

Golden hour is a fleeting time of the day that photographers often strive to capture while it’s still visible and at its peak.

During golden hour, the sky is usually filled with warm yellow light, water is usually warm and reflective, and the trees are still lit by the setting sun. You can capture so many beautiful scenes and with a little practice your golden hour photography skills will rapidly improve.