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How to capture the golden hour glow on camera



The thing I love the most about natural light is that dreamy creamy glow only the sun can provide in photos. I am in love – obsessed even – with that magical time of day when the sun is in the perfect spot in the sky. I’ll be walking down the street in awe at the light surrounding me, only wishing I had my camera and a couple to photograph!

You’ll only find this buttery orange light during what is most commonly known as golden hour (or magic hour) – between 1 to 2 hours after sunrise and 2 to 1 hour before sunset (depending on where on planet earth you are of course!). During this time, the sunlight is redder and softer than when it’s higher up in the sky. For all you nerds out there (including me!), here’s the quick scientific explanation… When the sun is near the horizon (at sunrise or at sunset), it’s light has to travel a longer distance through the atmosphere to reach you then when it is directly above you at midday. Having the sun farther away and at a smaller angle to the earth, it reduces the intensity of the light creating softer and longer shadows. In addition, when the light has a longer voyage through the atmosphere, the blue light in the spectrum is scattered, so the light reaching you will, therefore, appear more reddish and orangey (mega win for use photogs!).



So how do I actually capture it?

The most obvious key factor in this whole operation is the time of day – but here are some other components that come into play:

  • shooting at a low aperture (ideally 1.2 – 2.4)
  • using prime lenses
  • placing the sun behind your subject


Shooting at a low aperture and in turn, using prime lenses

This is not a lesson on lenses, but usually, in order to be able to dial your aperture down as low as 1.2, you’ll need a prime (or fixed focal length) lens. Having such a wide aperture will allow you to create that creamy bokeh background all while allowing lots of light in. You can surely get great results with slightly higher apertures, but primes are what I (mostly) use because I love the look they enable me to achieve.


Placing the sun behind your subject

Placing the sun behind your subject will give you that beautiful halo effect. It will also allow the skin tones to stay true to themselves (because if those orange rays were to splash directly on your subject’s face, your skin tones would quickly become a Doritos colour!). Lastly, having the sunlight behind your subject (or facing your lens) you’ll allow all that hazy orange goodness to stream into your lens, creating that sought after glow.


My favourite tool

When planning a photo session months or weeks down the road, I use this free online website called Time and Day to accurately find out when the sunset and sunrise times will be. All you need to do is enter your city, your desired month/year and voilà! All the sunrise and sunset times (amongst tons of other fun info) are available to you!


A few examples…

Canon 5D Mark III, 50mm, ISO 200, f/1.4, 1/200 sec

June 19th 2016, 9:12pm, sunset at 10:05pm

How to capture that golden hour creamy dreamy glow light


Canon 5D Mark III, 50mm, ISO 200, f/1.4, 1/250 sec

June 19th 2016, 9:21pm, sunset at 10:05pm

How to capture that golden hour creamy dreamy glow light


Canon 5D Mark III, 50mm, ISO 200, f/2.0, 1/400 sec

September 18 2015, 7:15pm, sunset at 7:41pm

How to capture that golden hour creamy dreamy glow light


Canon 5D Mark III, 50mm, ISO 200, f/1.8, 1/250 sec

September 18 2015, 7:20pm, sunset at 7:41pm

How to capture that golden hour creamy dreamy glow light


Canon 5D Mark III, 50mm, ISO 125, f/2.0, 1/800 sec (left) — Canon 5D Mark III, 50mm, ISO 100, f/1.4, 1/160 sec (right)

May 24 2016, 8:20pm (left) — May 24 2016, 7:21pm (right), sunset at 9:42pm

How to capture that golden hour creamy dreamy glow light

So there you have it! My tips on how to capture that glowy, dreamy, hazy golden hour light! As always, ask me all your questions in the comments bellow, or even tag me in YOUR golden hour shots! I’d love to se what kind of art you create. xx


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    Emilie Smith is based in Edmonton, Alberta // Edmonton Wedding Photographers, Mountain Adventure Wedding Photographers and Edmonton Elopement Photographers

    Serving: Alberta // British-Columbia // Canadian Rockies // National Parks // Okanagan // West Coast // Northern Canada

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