Sunday, April 22, 2012

shooting at golden hour

There is a time of day that photographer's often rely on to assist in giving the most powerful and dramatic images possible. Golden Hour. You may have heard the term thrown around here and there a bit if you have recently entered the world of photography. Golden hour is not another name for a free beer happy hour at the local pub, although that wouldn't be a bad name. Golden hour is not the moment you kick your shoes off after a long day of work and park your behind on the couch. Well, in actuality it may be for me but I haven't given it a proper name yet. Golden Hour is, in reality, the magical moment at which the sun is at a low position in the sky, turning the atmosphere from a dull baby blue to a mix of wonderful hues of the whole spectrum of visible colors.

More after the jump...


Golden hour can be utilized twice a day. It happens just as the sun begins to rise at dawn and also just before it dips below the horizon at dusk. I don't have my Golden Hour App by my side at the moment but it is out there if you want to get real scientific about the exact moment it begins. More specifically, the app can give you exact seconds due to your given coordinates on the big blue marble. Without getting to nerdy, as I often do, let's just round it off a bit and say that optimal time for golden hour photography happens for about 30 to 60 minutes on either part of the day. The closer the sun is to the horizon, the more colorful and dramatic the sky will become.


Who isn't really relevant here but needed to add the category to go with the flow. Obviously, the "who" is the photographer. If you are out to make super awesome and dramatic imagery, then golden hour is one of the most powerful and free tools available. Whether shooting portraiture, landscapes or whatever the case may be, tripping the shutter release at this time will take your photographs to an exponentially better level.

I, on the other hand, do not take advantage of the situation as often as I would like. It just so happens that when shooting these days, with multiple strobes, I don't worry too much about the sky, as I take control of the ambient environment with exposure tweaking. Even using strobes, one can utilize the power of golden hour. As for myself, it just so happens that much of the portrait work I am doing takes place either inside or along with structures as backdrops in urban areas that golden hour may or may not affect.


The "why" is another dummy category. Take a look at the image herein. Now imagine it being high noon. How would that sky look? Just think of a cloudless bright blue sky. Amateur shooters think that the bright blue is optimal for photography purposes, allowing ample light to shine, aiding in getting "the shot." Well my friends, this assumption couldn't be further from the truth. Bright, cloudless blue skies couldn't be more boring than watching paint dry. Besides being boring, that light tends to be super hard, yielding unflattering shadows.


I mentioned earlier that I don't worry too much about the sky due to where I've been doing my recent works. When opportunities arise that I do get to shoot with skies as backdrops, I try to schedule those shoots according to that magical time of day. Sometimes that is not so easy if a client wants the shoot done according to their schedule. That's why I've learn to overcome the bad sky scenario with the manipulation of ambient and strobes. Given the opportunity to shoot in a golden hour environment, I am more likely to use strobes than not. Using strobes in such an environment can really boost the drama in a portrait shoot. By dragging the shutter a bit, you can produce even more colorful skies than meets the eye. Pop a speedlight or two or three into the scene and you have rock star quality photography. Yeah man!


Besides the obvious what, the sun, there are some other variables that you may need to factor in to get optimal imagery. I can't believe that I'm even going to say this but here goes nuthin'. MAKE SURE YOU ARE SHOOTING IN MANUAL! Yep, I said it. If you've been a long time reader of this blog, you should be well aware that the first rule to becoming a better photographer is to have a camera that can be shot in full manual mode. Meaning that you, the photographer, make every single exposure decision; shutter speed, aperture, ISO, white balance, etc. It is the most basic of rules to learn. Here's why. If you are working with a fully automatic point and shoot, you are letting that camera make all of the creative decisions for you rather than vice versa. Shooting in automatic mode for any enthusiast or aspiring pro is the fastest way to failure. I promise. Now, to take that even further, if you are that same auto shooter and want to add strobes, you are creating a recipe for disaster, as learning to light is a whole other monster. Get an SLR, learn every single mechanism of it and then begin to shoot. Using a fully automatic point and shoot will make shooting at golden hour less than awesome.

Another tool that will aide in the creation of excellent photos, during golden hour, is a good tripod. I emphasize the word "good" for a couple of reasons. I am epitome of the tripod slacker. I currently own two tripods. Neither worth a bit of good. They were cheap and I was working on a tight budget. They performed at mediocre levels. Soon thereafter, they crapped the bed. The legs don't stay in place, pieces have snapped off. Useless. And to be honest, both are sitting on the floor in the back seat of my SUV. Feel free to take them, at no cost. As paperweights, they can be very useful. I wouldn't recommend putting a camera on them, ever again. The point of my rant is that you may need a good tripod when shooting during golden hour. The ambient will be getting low and the working shutter speeds will have to get longer. Unless you are a superhuman that can hold a camera absolutely still for an extended period of time than you will need something to keep the camera stable. Good tripods aren't cheap but are well worth the investment. Purchase the right one and it should outlive the life of your camera. I'm not saying to go spend a couple grand on certain brands but you should invest a few hundred on the tripod and a few on a nice ball head. Mine were purchased at yard sales for less than ten bucks. They worked for a couple months. I mostly shoot handheld so it hasn't been a problem lately but I've been looking to buy a new one soon. Gitzo, Manfrotto, Benro and Feisol are a few amazing brands, just to name a few.


This is another gimme question. If you are able to get your camera on land or water that is vast in nature than you are in luck. Golden hour will be available to you at all times, as long as you are willing to make the commitment to work it into your photography. Not everyone has the dedication to wake up before sunrise to get the magical shots. Fear not, if you aren't a morning person, you can always get the photo op at sunset.

The best places to work golden hour into the frame are beaches, open fields, canyons, prairies or mountainous areas, just to name a few. Did I say prairie? I don't even know what the hell a prairie is. Ha!

You know where to find it. Set that alarm clock for zero dark hundred hours, grab some gear along with an extra large coffee and discover the beauty of golden hour.

Until next time...