The best time to take a photo is during golden hour. It’s the hour with the most spectacular light and vibrant colors of the day. With such a limited window of perfect conditions, it’s important to remember the best camera settings for golden hour photography.
In this guide, you’ll discover the best camera settings for golden hour photography, so you always capture the perfect shot. There’s a lot more that goes into capturing the perfect golden hour photo than you may think. From lens choice, filters, camera settings, and more, this guide has you covered! Let’s get started.
When Is Golden Hour
It’s useless to know what the best settings for golden hour are if you don’t even know when it takes place! Golden hour is the hour during sunrise or sunset when the sun is near the horizon. During this time, the light becomes much warmer and more colorful than any other point in the day.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a set time throughout the year that golden hour takes place. As the seasons change, so does the time of sunrise and sunset. There are a few great apps that you can use to figure out when golden hour will be:
This is a free desktop app that allows you to see precisely where the sunrise and sunset will take place according to your location. Simply drop a pin on the spot you want to take photos, and you’ll get all the information you need. From light direction and time, this is a valuable tool to help you plan your golden hour photography. You can start using Photographers Ephemeris by clicking here.
PhotoPills is a paid mobile app that allows you to track the exact position of the sun throughout the day. It will give you all the time information you need for golden hour photography and more! This app is one of my personal favorites and is a must for anyone serious about getting the perfect light in their outdoor photography. PhotoPills is a paid app, but I believe it’s worth every penny. I highly suggest learning more about the app here.
Is Golden Hour Worth Waiting For
You may be wondering whether taking photos during golden hour is actually worth-while. You’re limited to such a small portion of the day to take pictures when you could just take the same shot in mid-afternoon.
Although that is a fair point, there is a massive difference in light between golden hour and mid-day. As the sun rises higher in the sky, the light becomes less colorful and flat. Shadows aren’t as flattering with light directly above, and there’s a lot more contrast in mid-day sun that can be hard to deal with exposure wise.
By waiting to shoot photos during golden hour, you’re rewarded with more vibrant colors and dynamic scenes than you could capture otherwise. It’s even more satisfying to capture golden hour during sunrise, knowing there aren’t many people awake to see the fantastic colors that kick off the day.
Is Sunrise Or Sunset Better To Photograph
There are two periods of golden hour during the day. One at sunrise and one at sunset. Each has its own benefits, but the answer to which is better will depend on the scene you’re trying to photograph.
The truth is, golden hour isn’t incredible at every place you go. It all depends on how a location is oriented towards the sunrise or sunset. Using the apps discussed earlier in this article, you can decide if sunset or sunrise will be better based on the location you want to shoot.
It’s also important to keep in mind that golden hour doesn’t happen in all weather conditions. Be sure to check the weather forecast while you’re planning out your golden hour photography mission. It’s definitely a bummer to wake up early for sunrise just to be treated to a bunch of grey storm clouds. It has to be sunny for golden hour to take place!
Best Camera Settings For Golden Hour Photography
The first thing you need to decide on is your camera settings. There are a ton of great ways to capture golden hour, so I’ll be sharing an excellent base to work from. With the tips offered here, you’ll be able to pick the best camera settings for golden hour photography no matter where you go!
#1 Use Manual Mode
Manual mode is a crucial part of capturing better golden hour photos. In manual mode, you are in charge of every setting on your camera. This gives you a considerable advantage to achieve stylistic effects to match the vision you have in mind. If you’re new to manual mode, I highly encourage you to download my Photography Essential Ebook. It breaks down everything you need to know about essential manual mode settings with tips to improve your photography!
#2 Choose The Right Shutter Speed
The first thing you need to ask yourself is what shutter speed you will be using. This answer will depend on whether or not you are using filters, but it’s a vital question, regardless. I recommend using a shutter speed of 1/80 or faster to ensure you can take sharp sunset pictures without the need for a tripod. Keep in mind that as you use longer focal lengths, you’ll need to increase your shutter speed to reduce camera shake. If you’re uncertain about choosing shutter speed, click here.
#3 Use A Mid-Range Aperture
A mid-range aperture could be considered anywhere between F/5.6 to F/11. In this range, you can photograph a wide array of things without an unflattering depth of field. I like to use an aperture of F/8 as a general aperture for golden hour photography. At F/8, the light appears soft, and there’s a slight background blur between my subject and background. That’s a style I’ve grown to like, but I would encourage you to experiment in between F/5.6 and F/11 to see what works for you. If you’re new to aperture, click here to start feeling more confident using this important camera setting.
#4 Use A Low ISO Setting
With golden hour photography, using a low ISO is essential to get the best quality image possible. Make sure to use a low ISO setting of ISO100 – ISO400 to reduce the amount of noise in your photo. This will help to retain quality in your shadows and make your photo look better if you decide to print it. You can learn more about ISO in photography by clicking here.
#5 Choose A Warmer White Balance
White balance is often overlooked, but an essential part of capturing great golden hour photos. Try using the custom white balance setting and choose a white balance of 5600K – 6500K. These white balance settings will add more warmth to your photo and accentuate the warm light of golden hour. If you’re new to white balance in photography, click here to learn more!
Now there are additional camera settings to choose from beyond the five listed above. Ultimately things like the best focus settings, drive modes, or file type will depend on the scene and the subject you’re photographing. However, try not to stress too much about these additional settings. By implementing the five outlined above, you’re well on your way to capturing a great sunset photo.
To help yourself remember these essential camera settings, make sure to download the manual mode cheat sheet! It’s the perfect reference guide to help you pick the ideal settings while out in the field.
Best Lenses For Golden Hour Photography
When it comes to lens choice, it boils down to two real contenders for golden hour photography. It doesn’t matter what brand of lens you are using, it only matters what focal length you choose. Choosing the right focal length is crucial for capturing golden hour photos in more captivating ways.
#1. Wide Angle Lens
A wide-angle lens is anything with a focal length of 24mm or wider. Using a wide-angle lens for golden hour photography gives you a huge advantage in the sense you can capture everything in the scene. This makes it easier to find compositions with unique foreground elements, while still including the amazing colors in the sky.
Using a wide-angle lens is even more useful for landscape photographers.With a wider field of view, you don’t have to decide what part of a scene you capture. A wide-angle lens lets you see all the golden hour action!
#2. Telephoto Lens
A telephoto lens has a focal length of 70mm – 100mm or greater. Telephoto lenses allow you to zoom far away to capture distant points of interest. This is especially handy if you want to capture the golden light across mountain peaks or utilize lens compression to make your scene look larger than life.
A telephoto lens is a handy tool for all photographers to use during golden hour photography. Now you can capture anything in your scene even if its miles away from you!
Best Filters For Golden Hour Photography
It’s important to note that filters are not a necessary part of capturing great golden hour photos. However, they do work exceptionally well to balance your exposure, improve color, or utilize a slow shutter in bright conditions. Below are three of the most useful types of photography filters for golden hour. You can try using one or try using them all, either way, you’ll notice a significant improvement in your photos.
Neutral Density Filter
Neutral density filters, also known as ND filters, are like sunglasses for your lens. This dark piece of glass covers the front of your lens and darkens your photo. With this extra darkening, you can slow down your shutter speed to capture a long exposure. ND filters are a valued tool by many photographers and are highly useful during golden hour.
Graduated Neutral Density Filter
A graduated neutral density filter, also known as a grad filter, is the same as an ND filter, except it transitions from dark to clear. This is useful to help darken then bright areas of your photo like the sky, for example. Grad filters are a tremendous help to balance out your exposure, especially when there’s a lot of contrast between the lights and darks. I’d highly recommend looking into grad filters if you want an easy and non-technical way to make your photos look more professional.
Polarizers are a powerful filter that all photographers should use, golden hour or not. Polarizers work by cutting glare in your pictures, which in turn, makes colors appear more vibrant. Polarizing filters are fantastic to help balance out the bright highlights of golden hour and make your photo come to life. You can check out a great magnetic polarizing filter I recently did a review on here.
Additional Golden Hour Photography Tips
Besides understanding the best camera settings for golden hour photography, there are other essential aspects to consider. To help ensure you get the perfect shot you’re looking for, use the tips outlined below to make the most of golden hour.
Tip #1: Arrive Early
Golden hour goes by quick. Sure, it lasts an entire hour, but you’ll be amazed by how fast it zips by. Arriving early to a location gives you enough time to plan out your shots and set up before the show begins. This is a crucial step to consider if you want to capture the best golden hour photo possible.
Tip #2: Bring A Tripod
If you end up using a zoom lens or filter for your golden hour photo, a tripod is going to come in handy. A tripod helps to stabilize your camera and ensures that photos taken with your heavy zoom lens have zero camera shake. Additionally, if you want to use your filters to their full potential, a tripod will allow you to do so. With a tripod, you never have to worry about whether or not your shutter speed is too slow.
Tip #3: Pick The Right Location
The sunrise and sunset won’t look the same at every location. It’s crucial to be aware of which direction the light will be shining from during golden hour. If you don’t plan this ahead of time, you could arrive at a beautiful spot just to realize the best light is happening out of view. Use apps like the photographer’s ephemeris to figure out where the sun will be shining from.
Tip #4: Bring Layers
It’s easy to forget how much the temperate changes without the sun shining on you. Make sure to pack a few layers to stay warm while waiting for sunrise or after the sunset. Nothing will make for a more miserable golden hour mission than being completely numb from head to toe.
Tip #5: Try To Capture Sunbursts
Sunbursts are a common staple in landscape photography and add a great additional point of interest. Whenever possible, try to hide the sun behind an edge so you can capture a sunburst in all its glory. To learn how to capture sunburst, click here!
There is a lot that goes into choosing the best camera settings for golden hour photography. With the steps and tools outlined in this guide, you’re well on your way to capturing more professional golden hour images.
An excellent resource for you to remember the best camera settings for golden hour is with the Manual Mode Cheat Sheet. This cheat sheet is a fantastic tool to help you decide the perfect camera settings while you’re taking photos. The best part of all is it’s totally free! Save yourself the stress of finding the ideal camera settings and download the Manual Mode Cheat Sheet.
Ultimately golden hour photography is a great excuse to get outside and enjoy the best light of the day. The more you get out and practice, the more confident you’ll become in choosing the best camera settings for golden hour photos.
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