by Sarah O’Connor | Contributing Editor
The Golden Hour like it’s name suggests is that tiny little one hour window right before the sun sets where the lighting is just amazing and golden.
In my years of shooting during this precious hour I have really nailed down a few things that are musts for shooting at this time.
1. Sunset Calculator
Probably the most important tool is the sunset calculator. You can input your zip code and it will give you the sunset time for any day you are looking at. This is great for scheduling times for future sessions! I use sunrisesunset.com but I know there are a ton of others and some iphone apps as well. Once you know the time the sun is setting you schedule your session to start shooting one hour before the sun sets.
2. West facing Location
Equally important as the sunset time is the photoshoot location. The sun sets in the west so you want your location of choice to be beautiful with your camera pointing at it looking west and slightly northwest and/or southwest. This way you can do backlight and 45 degree side lit shots.
I love love love using my reflector for backlit shots. I always use it for my close up shots. With longer focal distances I usually have to tweak a bit in editing since the reflector isn’t really effective. Some photographers find having an assistant useful to help however, I just hold the reflector myself with my elbow right underneath my camera and it seems to work out pretty good.
4. Lens hood
If you don’t want the sunflare coming in your lens be sure to remember your lens hood. I like a mix of both hazy photos and clear photos so I usually take the hood on and off during the shoot depending on the look I am going for at the time.
5. Hat or sunglasses
Since you will be shooting towards the sun it will be bright and you don’t want to hurt your eyes, or worse squint and get wrinkles! I always wear my sunglasses because I have super sensitive eyes. Some people might have trouble looking at the camera screen correctly with them though, so if you look at your screen a lot then a hat might work better for you.
First part of the session the sun is still higher and you can get some nice 45 degree angle lighting. The two pictures below on the left were shot with no hood on the lens and at less of an angle to get a hazy sun look. The top photo on the right was shot with the lens hood on so it is more clear and the bottom right photo was a close up so I used a reflector to bounce light into her face.
The second part of the session the sun will be lower and can be placed directly behind the subjects head. This allows you to use the subject to block the sun and it will peek out from behind causing the hair to glow like these pictures below.
The third part of the session the sun will be almost set. This time you can get a little bit of a deeper look in your colors and this is a good time to turn your subject facing the sun if you want and get a tiny glow on their face.
The sun has now set and you are done…WRONG! Bump up that ISO and have some fun. This is the time for dramatic skies and silhouettes.
Ok, now your done! We’ll work on how to edit the golden hour pictures next month.
Sarah O’Connor is a creative portrait photographer in the Kansas City area and works mainly with families, newborns & children on location and in her home studio. She lives in Lenexa with her husband, two little boys Rowan & Quinn and daughter Eloise.
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