Setting the Scene: Golden Hour

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Photography Tips for Golden Hour + Sunset

As the afternoon draws to a close sunlight appears warmer, softer and so much more beautiful. This is the golden hour and you don’t want to be staring blankly at your camera not knowing what to do when it happens.

So…here is your guide to photographing Golden Hour!

Whether you are travelling the world and witnessing magical sunsets over the ocean or exploring a park in the middle of a city, the tips below will help you change the way you capture golden hour.

Golden hour is that special time of day photographers go crazy for.

When the sun is going down and nears the horizon dispersing a gentle light and creating a magic like quality in your images. It’s roughly an hour of varying colours, warm glow and light conditions blending together to form the perfect canvas for photographers to snap away happily.

Best settings for Photographing Golden Hour Travel Photography (9)

Planning the Location:

Because golden hour pases by so quickly, it’s essential to pre-plan where you’re hoping to shoot in order to have the best chance of capturing a range of images. Are you focusing more on the sun setting, shooting portraits or the moment lights start to turn on and the beautiful purple tones linger as blue hour begins.

Arriving five minutes too late for the setting sun is never fun. Before a sunset shoot always check the exact time the sun will set that day and be sure to arrive at least 1 hour before to make the most of the golden hour. Sometimes you’ll get amazing sun rays 15 minutes prior to sunset and the warm glow is always an ideal light for portraits too. Sunset times and the best vantage points change throughout the year based on the season so it’s essential to research for your exact location.

As I just mentioned in my previous post, there’s a number of websites where you can check the direct of the sun. Suncalc is a great free sit that allows you to input your location and it will tell you exactly where the sun will line up at every hour of the day. Pretty handy if you’re trying to work out where to shoot and compose your shot before golden hour commences.

Best settings for Photographing Golden Hour Travel Photography

What Gear You Need:

Shooting golden hour means you’re heading toward low light so it’s one of those times that having a tripod is really handy.

For most of my golden hour shots I love to keep the composition nice and wide so typically pack my M.Zuiko 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO lens. That said, if I’m shooting a portrait or street scenes I love a beautiful glowing bokeh which is created by either a great fixed focal length like a 50mm lens or by zooming in nice and tight. I recently went out to capture poppy fields in Provence, France and found that the 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO lens stayed on my camera almost the entire shoot. See a sample below of how a zoom lens can capture the golden glow…it’s very addictive!

I avoid using flash, actually I rarely use a flash for any type of photography but particularly during golden hour as it will really darken the tones and create more of a silhouetted look.

Best settings for Photographing Golden Hour Travel Photography

Provence Poppy Fields – Photographed with my Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II + 40-150MM M.Zuiko PRO lens into the sunny glow of golden hour.

Best Settings for Golden Hour:

To capture the warm light first things first, always switch your white balance to cloudy mode. This will warm up the tones in your image and bring out the rich colours golden hour produces.

Keep your ISO as low as possible in order to minimise noise and keep your shots super sharp. You may need to increase your ISO once the light starts to drop so don’t be afraid to bump it up when necessary.

Starting Point –

ISO 100

Exposure +0.7

Aperture f/2.8 (if you’re after bokeh) or around f/14 if you’re after a sharp image from foreground to background.

When the sun is close to the horizon it’s a great chance to create sun stars your images. The portrait below was taken during the beautiful wedding of Heidi and Mahn in Australia. By setting my cameras aperture to f/14 and placing the sun between the couple with the edges just touching Heidi’s neck it created a big sparkly sun burst.

Best settings for Photographing Golden Hour Travel Photography

Composition Tips for Golden Hour

#1 Find a Foreground Subject

I’m all for just using the colourful sky to compose your image however most of the time you’ll need to find a foreground subject to help create your photo. Whether it’s a wooden jetty, flock of birds, single tree or your travel buddy, use something that enhances the scene and adds perspective to the photograph.

Photographing Golden Hour Travel Photography (7)

#2 Look For Reflections

When the sky is lit up and looking fabulous it’s also a great opportunity to double the magic and reflect it in a puddle, lake, still water, flat glass bench…anything you can find to achieve a reflection. Be sure to get nice and close to the reflective source to ensure a beautiful split image that showcases both sides of the reflection.

#3 Portrait Perfection

Golden hour is easily the best time to shoot portraits. Whether they are travel portraits, street scenes, weddings or families, the golden glow and soft light acts like a natural beauty filter. Shooting with a 50mm lens will result in gorgeous bokeh behind your subject and if you gently over exposure the image, your subjects face will be soft and clear.

I love to shoot portraits with the light behind the subject, this is particularly easy to do when the light is lower as you won’t get the strong shadowed effect. Alternatively, you can ask your subject to turn slightly to the side which will let the glow of the sun softly touch their features.

Best settings for Photographing Golden Hour Travel Photography

#4 Creative Blur

If there is a lot of colour in the sky, why not make a fine art image that displays movement and merges the colour tones together. The aim is to simply create streaky colours of movement across your image so don’t freak out if it’s a blurry mess.

Start by dropping the ISO to something low like 100 or 200, adjust your aperture to around f/16 and then take a test shot standing still to ensure the colours are still vibrant and not blown out. If they are, stand still like a tripod and click the shutter as you quickly rotate from left to right. Amazing right!? This is one of my favourites!

Best settings for Photographing Golden Hour Travel Photography

Travel Photography - Golden Hour the best camera settings and composition advice.


If you’ve got a golden hour shot to share, use the hashtag #thewanderinglens on Instagram or come and join my private Facebook group ‘The Wandering Lens Photography Group’ and share it with a group of fellow photography lovers! Click the link above to receive an invite to join.

 

Lisa Michele Burns

Lisa Michele Burns

Photographer at The Wandering Lens
Lisa is the founder and photographer behind The Wandering Lens. As an Australian currently based in France she's never in one place for too long and is always looking for the next destination to photograph whether it be above or below the water. With 10+yrs as a professional photographer, all advice found on this site is from Lisa's personal experience on the road.
Lisa Michele Burns

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7 Comments

  1. Trent G.

    May 24, 2017 at 2:51 pm

    I’ve been using SunCalc for a few months now and it really helps choose where to point the camera and set up for sunset.

    • thewanderinglens

      May 28, 2017 at 7:57 am

      It’s amazing isn’t it!? Although, it is also possible to use an old school compass too which can be fun!

  2. Bec Tyler

    May 26, 2017 at 6:12 pm

    The white balance tip is so simple yet I’ve never thought to look at it before. Thank you!! *waits for sunset 😉

    • thewanderinglens

      May 28, 2017 at 7:57 am

      Great to hear Bec, I hope your sunset shoot went well 🙂

  3. Olivia

    May 27, 2017 at 7:56 am

    OMG where were you when I got married! I had no idea you did wedding photos? Do you still?

    • thewanderinglens

      May 28, 2017 at 7:59 am

      Aw, when and where did you get married Olivia? I’m sure your shots were beautiful 🙂
      I do still photograph the occasional wedding, I used to shoot over 100 a year but that was far too much and I got a tad burnt out so now I aim for around 5-10 destination weddings. If you have a friend getting married you’re definitely welcome to suggest me! My wedding photos are at http://www.lisamicheleburns.com

  4. Geoff Cheshire

    September 24, 2017 at 4:05 am

    IF you are planning shots in advance, check out the Photographer’s Ephemeris (as an app and own the web). It really does help you understand the timings and direction of the sunset. A really excellent piece of kit

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