Want Stunning Photos? Try Shooting During Golden Hour

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If you’re going to capture breathtaking moments, you should definitely try shooting during golden hour (also known as magic hour).

Golden hour is the first hour of light after sunrise and the last hour of light before sunset. During these times, the sun is lower in the sky, casting a softer, more diffused light on your subject(s). Soft light is often preferred for photography, since it doesn’t create any severe shadows. Nor does soft light call attention to textures we’d like to hide (e.g. pimples, wrinkles, etc.), so it’s perfect for portrait shots!

As a professional photographer, I’ve shot plenty of wedding photos during magic hour to make the most of that warm, gorgeous glow! Here are a few different lighting options you can play with to make your photos magical too:


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Front Lighting: Your subject faces the sun, creating a nice, even glow. If you’re shooting portraits, most squinting eyes will be eliminated. Did I mention it helps your subject look tan?


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Back Lighting: Your subject is in front of the light. This can create two different kinds of looks. If you are exposing for back light, your subject will appear dark and create a nice silhouette. However, you can also expose for the shadows or their faces, which will create a warm, glowing effect.


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Rim Lighting: Your subject is in front of the light source, creating a halo around them. This creates a nice separation from the background and focuses your attention on the subject.


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The list doesn’t stop here, there are tons of things you can do with magic hour. If you have a shoot scheduled soon, practice some of these ideas so you can wow everyone! Here are a few more tricks of the trade for you to make the most out of golden hour:

1. Plan ahead — Your “hour” window comes and goes very quickly. Know where you want to shoot, prepare your shots beforehand and leave room for unexpected moments!

2. Think Fast — Every minute that passes, you are losing light. The light at the start of your shoot will have a completely different light ten minutes later. Shoot a variation of photos, and use your time wisely!


Image: Peperoros via Flickr

3. Wide Aperture — aka using a smaller f/stop, which inadvertently isolates your subject from the background, creating a beautiful and soft glow.

4. White balance — This can be a little tricky during magic hour. Although the light source creates a very elegant golden, warm tone, the light is continually diminishing. I recommend shooting in “custom” where you can select your own color temperature or use the “cloudy” setting, which is more neutral.

For all you phone photographers, you can absolutely utilize golden hour too! The higher the resolution your camera phone has, the better quality your photos will turn out. The trick, I believe, is to be as close to your subject as possible. Obviously I don’t mean all up in someone’s face! But be as close as you can without losing the intended outcome.

Have you used magic hour in your photography? Add your favorite shots to our Facebook page or share them in the comments below!

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Hello! I'm Natalie Rhea, a professional photographer/videographer based out of Austin, TX. I make a living telling other people's stories! Follow my work at natalierhea.com as I tell you stories about the world I see.

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