What Is Golden Hour and How to Use It in Your Photography

Have you ever wondered how photographers get beautiful golden hues in their images? Shooting during the golden hour is the key to securing those types of shots.

Composition and lighting are fundamental cornerstones of photography. We all know good light is key to capturing amazing photos.

Flash photography allows controlling Indoor lighting conditions using artificial light, your camera’s flash, and even reflectors. Outdoor lighting, however, can’t be controlled, so you have to work with what nature gives you.

One gift it does give is the golden hour (or ‘magic hour’); a short window of magical light which happens twice a day (provided the weather is not overcast).

A woman brushes through tall grass in a field at sunset
A woman brushes past tall grass in a field, taken during golden hour. 

When Is the Golden Hour?

So what it the golden hour in photography?

it’s the period of time shortly after sunrise or before sunset. The duration depends on the seasons and your location, as well as the local weather.

It’s essentially the warm sunlight that occurs when the sun is between the horizon and 6 degrees above it. This is greatly influenced by the time of year and location.

Northerly places, such as Iceland and Norway, are famous for their exceptionally long sunrises and sunsets. The golden hour in winter and summer lasts much longer than an hour in such locations.

Destinations closer to the equator, on the other hand, are known for their swift sunrises and sunsets; they’ll experience much shorter golden hours.

Sunrise in a park in Lyon, France, during the golden hour
The golden hour is the time shortly after sunrise or before sunset. It gives images a lovely golden hue, such as this shot of people enjoying the sunrise in Lyon

Golden Hour Characteristics

How do you find the golden hour? There are three key features of the golden hour, all of which combine to create amazing photographic conditions.

  • Warm colors: sunlight is in the orange and yellow range of the color spectrum during the golden hour, which is why it’s called that.
  • Low angle of the sun: this is what defines the golden hour. A low angle creates softer light and longer shadows.
  • Diffused light: when the sun is close to the horizon, light has to travel further than when it’s high in the sky. The atmosphere acts like a light diffuser, which makes the light less intense and ‘softer’. It reduces harsh contrast, which makes it easier to capture an evenly exposed image. It also filters out blue light to give mainly warm colors.
A group of people laugh during the golden hour
A group of friends relish the last rays of sunlight of the day.

Calculating Golden Hour

Although the golden hour is not a set amount of time, there are ways to track when it will happen near you.

There are many apps for photographers that can be useful. Most weather apps should tell you the times of sunrise and sunset at your desired location. You can work out roughly the best time to set up and take the shot from that.

If you want more precise results, you could consult a golden hour calculator, which calculates exact details of the golden hour in your location from longitude and latitude coordinates. It shows you the minute when the magic hour starts and when it ends. It’s an incredibly useful tool for photographers who are serious about their art.

A young girl blows dandelion clocks during golden hour
A young girl blows dandelion clocks during golden hour. 

Plan your Shoot in Advance

Landscape photography and portrait photography are the two main genres of photography which benefit most from the golden hour.

Whichever type you shoot, it’s important to plan your session properly.

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