One of the first things you learn as a new photographer is that the coveted ‘golden hour’ is that magical time when all photos you take come out beautiful. Right? Sort of. The truth is that getting good shots during golden hour is easier said than done. What it does do is provide you with beautiful soft light that can really enhance your subject. Harnessing it in the best way possible takes skill and practice. Here are five tips to help set you up for success!
The sad truth about that magical hour is that the beginning of the hour still has pretty bright light. The most ideal, golden light is about 10 minutes prior to sunset and for about 10 minutes after the sun dips below the horizon. It’s not realistic to only shoot during these period of 20 minutes so the ideal location is one that has the ability to filter the sun (with trees or buildings or other structures) at the beginning of your session. Once the sun gets very low in the sky, you can then move into a more open area.
I began this session right in front of a grove of very tall trees. To cut down on haze when the sun is very bright, you want to make sure you position the sun behind a tree trunk, or your subjects’ body, or really any other opaque object. This will drastically reduce the amount of light entering your lens. If you’re desperate to filter and don’t have anything to filter with, you can use the side of your lens. Position your subjects to the side of the sun and then let only a bit of the sun into the frame using the edge of your lens.
One way to reduce the glare of sun on your lens is to make sure your lens is tilted slightly downwards so that the light is not hitting it straight on. Luckily, this is a flattering angle to photograph people at also. If your subjects are taller than you, try having them sit or crouch down and get in nice and close to their family members. If you are short like me and your subjects are standing, try using the “live view” mode on your camera if you have one. This allows me to hold my camera up higher than my eye and make sure I am getting an ideal angle.
I am the queen of shooting wide open, so this sometimes pains me and it is typically my last resort. My happy place for my aperture for family sessions is generally between f2.0 – f2.5. If I am shooting on a very bright evening and having trouble controlling the haze with the above mentioned techniques, I will close down my aperture to f2.8-f3.2. Letting less light into your camera is the key to shooting in bright conditions so sometimes this is a necessary adjustment.
This seems so obvious but it’s often forgotten (by me at least!). Here in the Boston area, we get so few *ideal* sunsets that are not overcast that I sometimes forget that the main purpose of a lens hood is to help with bright light! Similar to tilting your lens slightly downward, a lens hood helps the light coming in to your lens to hit it at an angle. This cuts down significantly on the brightness of the light.
Post-processing plays a major role in golden hour photographs. Once you’ve followed the tips above, it all comes down to editing to enhance your subject and the beautiful light. Some of my best tips are to start by reducing your highlights to -100 and bumping your shadows to +100. Adjust from there depending on your lighting situation. Doing this is going to help with retaining detail in that beautiful sunset sky while also brightening your subjects for ideal skin tones. Adding additional contrast and clarity can also help to make your subjects pop. Lastly, if your image is still looking overly hazy, try the dehaze slider! The dehaze slider adds both warmth and magenta to your image, so keep in mind that you may need to adjust your white balance to counteract that!
Have you tried shooting during golden hour before? Here is a link to my favorite website for determining that ideal hour in your city. Any additional questions? Ask away in the comments!
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