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Shooting in the golden hours for many, especially landscape photographers, is the best time to be out taking photographs. The reason for this is the sun often gives a wonderful golden glow and the light is a lot softer and less intense than it is during the middle of the day.

Palace of Westminster, Sunset
Palace of Westminster, Sunset

About the Golden Hour

The golden hour generally refer to the first hour of the day and the last hour of the day. If you are going to be shooting during this time, it’s worth knowing your location and ensuring you are there well in advance, so that you can get into position and also move around if your composition isn’t working. A good website to find out the time of sunrise and sunset is timeanddate.com.

Toronto Skyline at Sunrise
Toronto Skyline at Sunrise

The golden hours can be hit and miss. I have often returned to the same location over and over again until I have achieved the light I was after (such as the shot below). But once you get it, you will have an image to treasure, a subject that has been photographed many times before, but because you captured it in these golden hours your picture looks even more impressive.

Houses of Parliament at Sunset
Houses of Parliament at Sunset

When shooting during the golden hour, you can sometimes get impressive silhouettes where the camera (or you) expose for the sky which is bright, and therefore the other parts of the image that are in shadow become a dark exposure, rendering them as silhouettes.

Sunrise and silhouettes
Sunrise and silhouettes

Equipment

Some of the equipment I recommend includes:

  • Tripod: Set your camera up on a tripod so that there won’t be any handshake. MeFoto offers great tripods. Read more: A personal review of Mefoto Tripods
  • Lens: 24-55mm is normally good for a wide shot. With this range you will have the scope to zoom in and adjust your composition. The lens I often use is the Canon EF 24-105mm  so that I have a good range.

Settings

Recommend settings for taking pictures during the golden hour:

  • Camera Mode: Aperture (AV Canon, A Nikon) – This is so you can control the Aperture (for depth of field).
  • Shutter speed: As you’re shooting in Aperture priority, the camera will set the shutter speed. As the sun comes up you’ll probably get a faster shutter speed.
  • Aperture: Set this depending on the depth of field you need. F/8 is often a safe bet if you are unsure.
  • ISO: 100 (To keep noise to a minimum).
  • Focus: Manual Focus using Liveview if you have it. I often focus about two-thirds of the way into the image on a sign or road markings.
  • White Balance: Cloudy is good, as it stops your camera from counteracting the warmth of the sun. If you shoot raw you can change this later if it doesn’t look right.

Other settings

  • Use a Timer Remote Shutter Release Control, or self-timer of either 2 or 10 seconds.
  • Set Mirror lockup, this reduces any vibration from the camera moving the mirror up at the start of exposure.
  • Image stabilisation (IS Canon, VR Nikon) off (This is because when set to on, the camera will try and find movement that doesn’t exist.

Taking the shot

  1. Get into position early and think about your composition and where the light is coming from. If you want a silhouette you would need to have the sun behind the subject. But if you want nice warm light on your subject, you would need the sun behind you, or to the side, so it shines on the subject.
  2. When the light looks how you want it then press the shutter release, preferably on your remote or using a self-timer. Take quite a few images, possibly changing your composition as you go. Assuming you’re shooting digital you can always decide which ones you want to keep later.
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Mike Clegg

Editor-in-chief at travelanddestinations.com
Mike is the primary author of Travel and Destinations. He is from the UK but spends most of his time travelling to new places and then shares his pictures and experiences through Instagram and this blog... [Read full bio]
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