Did you ever look at a photograph and wonder how they captured that soft, serene light? Have you been on vacation and wondered why, when you get home, your pictures don’t have the same dreamy quality that you saw when researching your trip? No matter what camera you use, there’s an easy way to take great photos in natural light and get that warm glow—use the golden hours.
In photography, the golden hours generally refer to the hour immediately after sunrise and immediately before sunset. Now, the “hour” concept can be a bit flexible, as what we are really talking about is how close the sun is to the horizon. This will vary depending on where you live (or are visiting). The goal is to take photographs when the light isn’t harsh, and sunlight gets harsh VERY quickly.
You know those beautiful pictures of famous locations without any tourists in them? Chances are they were taken just after sunrise. I know it may sound wrong to get up extra early on vacation, the reward is often an uncluttered (or less cluttered) location.
Here are five tips to shooting during the golden hours:
Determine when sunrise and sunset actually occur
I use Time and Date. You can search for any location in the world, and they have a “Sun and Moon” tab that provides sunrise and sunset times.
Check out your location in advance
You need to do the legwork. Frame your shot the day before and figure out where the best place to set up will be. See what the light actually does in that precise spot.
While this is easy to do if it’s a location close to home, if you’re on a once-in-a-lifetime trip, do some research before you leave. The online photography community is wonderful, and many people who post on Flickr or 500px will give GPS co-ordinates or directions to where they took that spectacular shot. (They will often post their EXIF data, so if you’re still new to photography, this can give you an indication of what settings you might need to use.)
If you’re shooting in the morning, it may be dark when you’re getting ready, so it’s good to know where you’re going. If you’re shooting late in the day, the light goes very quickly. You don’t want to waste time finding the right place to set up.
Prepare your gear
Charge your battery and format your memory card (but make sure you’ve downloaded your images first). Have your camera bag packed and by the door beside your tripod. (Whether you are shooting at dawn or at dusk, there won’t be a lot of light. You will probably need a tripod to compensate for the low shutter speed you’ll need to exposure the photograph properly.) Pack a flashlight!
Be ready to click that shutter at least 20 minutes before you think the light will be perfect. If it takes you 20 minutes to set up, then you need to arrive 40 minutes early.
Shoot and Enjoy
Take as many photos as you can! As beautiful as the image you make may be, take a moment to look away from the viewfinder and enjoy the view.