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What is Golden Hour Photography?

Updated on April 26, 2012

Golden Hour

Have you ever heard a photographer talking about the golden hour? Many times photographers will refer to it as the magic hour. When people are talking about the golden hour they are referring to the time of day that creates beautiful, golden light near dawn and dusk. This time creates such stunning light it deserves a name.

The Magic of the Hour

The golden hour is great for photography because it naturally lowers the contrast in a scene and creates interesting, warm colors. This time of day works like a natural light diffuser. This is because the sun is located closer to the horizon, so few objects are receiving direct light. When you have less direct light you have less shadows to deal with which creates scenes with less contrast. Contrast is the difference between the darkest point in a scene and the brightest point in a scene. When you have a scene with lower contrast and balanced light it becomes easier to capture a photo with proper exposure which is why photographers love the golden hour.

(The photos in this article do not actually demonstrate a low-contrast scene, in this case I went the other way and took photos aimed directly at the sun. The photos were taken during the golden hour, but they used a special technique called HDR photography.)

Golden Hour Calculators

To find the exact timein your area you will need a golden hour calculator. Here are two calculators that I recommend:

  • Golden-Hour -- This one is really advanced and provides an app for your phone.
  • B-Roll -- This is a simple calculator that is really easy to use.

When is Golden Hour?

If you are looking to capture some stunning photos during the golden hour you will need to do some research. The problem with the golden hour is that it is constantly moving because the time for sunset and sunrise is constantly moving. To determine the exact time in your area you can use a golden hour calculator.These calculators can give you the precise time of golden hour in your area. It is important to have the precise time since the golden hour doesn't last for very long.

Planning a Golden Hour Photo Shoot

As I mentioned above the golden hour is always moving. Below I will show you step-by-step directions on how to determine when it starts in your area. When you are planning to take photos during this time it is best to be well prepared since time isn't on your side. Here are a few quick tips for your photo shoot:

  • Arrive early even if you used a calculator.
  • Make sure your camera battery is fully charged.
  • Bring a tripod since you won't always have a lot of light.
  • Lastly, look for ways to capture unique photos with this amazing light.

Step 1: Determine Location of Photo Shoot

The first thing you need to do is determine where you will be taking your pictures. You can do this with an address or a latitude and longitude crossing. If you are unsure of the location, try to find a location nearby. For this example I choose the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park, which is where the photos shown above were taken.

A markerSleeping Bear Dunes National Park -
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, W Front St, Empire, MI 49630, USA
get directions

Step 2: Determine When it Starts

Before you can use a golden hour calculator you will need to pick a day for when you want to take your photos. For this example I have chosen the date April 3, 2025. Once you have chosen your date, it is time to use your golden hour calculator. I decided to use the B-Roll calculator and got the following data:

Date
Sun Rise (Begins)
Golden Hour Ends for Dawn
Golden Hour Begins for Dusk
Sunset (Ends)
April 2, 2025
7:18 AM
7:53 AM
7:41 PM
8:15 PM
April 3, 2025
7: 17 AM
7:51 AM
7:42 PM
8:16 PM
April 4, 2025
7:15 AM
7:49 AM
7:43 PM
8:18 PM

Step 3: Taking The Photos

This is the fun part; now you need to take the photos. When taking photos during the golden hour you will want to move fairly quickly since you have less than an hour to take advantage of the light. Hopefully, you will be able to catch a few winning photos to show off to your friends and family. Have fun shooting!

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    • hisandhers profile image

      hisandhers 5 years ago from Toronto, Ontario, Canada

      Thanks so much for this hub! I've been wanting to schedule some family portraits outdoors for a while but never knew what time would be best to schedule them. Incredibly useful!

    • kgala0405 profile image
      Author

      Kevin Galarneau 5 years ago from Michigan

      Their is also something called the blue hour that I didn't mention in this hub. That is the time shortly before sun rise and shortly after sunset. It may sound strange, but people with blonde hair look really good in photos during the blue hour. I'm not sure if your family has blonde hair, but I thought it might be worth sharing.

    • hisandhers profile image

      hisandhers 5 years ago from Toronto, Ontario, Canada

      Ha! Yes, we're both blonde! How could you tell? :)

      Thanks for sharing.

    • nifwlseirff profile image

      Kymberly Fergusson 5 years ago from Villingen Schwenningen, Germany

      I love taking photos during sunset - the lighting is wonderful, and it is very meditative. Plus, you can play with shadows and silhouettes. Sunrise is a bit too early for a night owl like me though!

    • Sandy Frost profile image

      Sandy Frost 5 years ago from India

      Well, I am knowing it first time that what is a golden hour but surely, this term suits very well for the time-spawn of these two beautiful moments. Probably anyone, who has some little interest in photography, will never miss a chance of capturing snaps in these wonderful moments. These are truelly golden hours.. :)

    • TrahnTheMan profile image

      TrahnTheMan 5 years ago from Asia, Oceania & between

      Great hub! It's probably worth mentioning that as camera technology improves and sensors become more sensitive to light, magic hour has grown in time to probably something like magic hour and a half! I've found I can extend my magic hour shooting by half an hour by steadily increasing the ISO for the last half an hour. At a certain point the noise gets unacceptable but you'd be surprised at how dark it can be to your eye and yet the camera can still take gorgeous pictures, especially with a fast lens.

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