What is the golden hour?
The golden hour is one of the best times of day to shoot pictures. It actually comes around two times every day. It happens right after sunrise in the morning and right before sunset in the evening.
The quality of light at this time is amazing. It is soft and golden. Skin tones are warmed up giving people a tanned look while shadows are long and diffused. It is quite easy to take great photos during this time of day.
Example of golden hour photography
Take a look at this happy couple. What makes this picture so special is the quality of light. You can see the sun highlighting their hair from behind with that soft golden glow.
Professional photographers add a hair-light all the time in their studios to get a similar effect. You can do it using natural light by putting the sun behind your subject. Compose your shot so that the sun is not in your picture. Otherwise it will look too bright and washed out.
Use a tripod
As the sun gets lower on the horizon the available light will fade out. Your camera will try to compensate for the lower light. Most likely you will start to see blurry pictures. To fix this problem you need to get the camera out of your hands.
Set the camera on a tripod, a table, a rock, or any stable object. Use your camera’s “self timer” instead of pressing the shutter button. This will allow you to keep shooting as the light gets dim. Most self timer buttons use the logo to the left.
What is soft light?
Soft light is characterized by even tones. This means the light is spread out evenly on surfaces which creates less contrast. Shadows are not harsh; instead they blend in with your subject to add just the right amount of interest to your photo. If you were to take a black and white picture in soft light there would be many variations of gray colors as shown in the graphic below.
Soft light happens during the golden hour but it also happens anytime on an overcast day. Don’t put your camera away just because the clouds roll in. This is often the best time to shoot.
What is hard light?
Hard light creates high contrast scenes. This means that shadows will be very dark and reflections of light will be very bright. Hard light happens during midday when the sun is shining down. With the sun directly overhead, people will have ugly dark shadows in their eye sockets and under their nose. One good thing about hard light is that it can make colors more vibrant. The sky will seem more blue and the leaves a deeper green.
If you were taking black and white pictures under hard light there would be mainly whites and blacks as shown in the graphic above. There would not be much gray in the picture.
Time to practice
Try taking pictures of the same thing on a sunny day at noon and also during the golden hour before sunset. When you compare them you should immediately notice how much better your pictures are during the golden hour.
Do you take pictures at noon?
Many professional photographers refuse to take pictures on a sunny day at noon. This is because when the sun is shining directly down it creates hard light. Hard light is not very good for photos of people.
When you are just starting out in photography I would recommend that you do not shoot outdoors during midday to avoid a lot of frustration. One exception to this rule happens on cloudy days. If the sky is overcast then you can shoot all day long and get great photos.
- The golden hour happens 1 hour after sunrise and 1 hour before sunset.
- If you don’t have to squint it’s a great time for taking pictures of people.
- Find soft light when taking pictures of people.
- Avoid the harsh midday sun.
- Stabilize your camera with a tripod when the light gets too dim.
Photo Assignment #5
Take a picture during the golden hour
Click the link above for a printable photo assignment worksheet.
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