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Shooting In The Golden Hours

How to get the most from the day's most special periods

By David Fleet

golden hours

Image Copyright: David Fleet

The 'golden hours' - those special times around dawn and sunset - are true gifts for photographers. They present wonderful opportunities for landscape potographers, that simply aren't there during the rest of the day.

Everyone loves the hint of the early morning sun peeking over the horizon and just beginning to erase the dew. Sunrises embody the innocence of a new day, and bring a soft light that looks magnificent in photographs.

Likewise, the amber rays of a sunset enhance almost every setting, and add a warmth that gives evening photographs their fantastic atmosphere.

One of the secrets of good landscape photography is to work with the elements, instead of trying to force things that aren't really there. So start taking advantage of the natural rhythms of each day. One of the best ways to do this is to capitalize on the light that's only available during the golden hours.


Scout Ahead to Save Crucial Time


golden hours
Image Copyright: David Fleet

Capturing the light of the golden hours requires a little more than just showing up! Because these periods of the day are so fleeting it is very important to be well prepared, so that you can move around your chosen location(s) without losing precious time.

Unfortunately for those of you who like your kip, this means it's essential to leave yourself at least half an hour in advance of dawn or dusk.

In fact, I usually scout locations out well before I actually shoot them, so I can work out how I plan to capture them at their best. Doing this allows you to work in a much more measured way when you do go back to shoot.


Quick Notes On Gear

golden hours

Image copyright: David Fleet

So, in terms of your set up, the first point is that you should be using a tripod for camera stability.

Whilst there is available light during these hours (making it possible to hand hold shots) it's absolutely best to use a tripod to avoid any camera shake - or poor image quality caused by the use of high ISO speeds.

Without a tripod, shooting in the golden hours will always be susceptible to blurriness caused by slower shutter speeds. This is very easily avoided with a tripod. So if you haven't yet invested in one, check out the options from a top manufacturer like Manfrotto, Gitzo or Vanguard.

Here's something worth noting: Always be aware of the weather conditions when you're shooting. Landscape photographers come face to face with the elements and you should get hold of a simple protective cover to prevent any dew or mist from harming your equipment.

If, like me, you often shoot on the coast, you'll soon appreciate having a few microfibre cloths in your kitbag, with which to wipe away sea-spray from your lenses, filters and camera.

It can be a real challenge keeping your equipment clean when working in windy coastal environments, and you definitely don't want to get home and find a once in a lifetime shot has been ruined by sea spray covering your lens!


Handle the Light With Manual Settings.

golden hours

Image Copyright: David Fleet

It is usually advisable to use a small aperture, to increase depth of field, for wide angle photographs. This approach basically means that you'll end up with an image that has a larger area in sharp focus.

This, of course, means that you'll need to compensate with a slower shutter speed (hence the importance of tripods), and perhaps even a faster ISO.

One of the trickiest things about golden hour photography is that the character and intensity of the light changes so fast. It's not like being a studio, where you're in total control of everything! Here, you are in the hands of the natural world.

Since you'll be sticking to a nice small aperture, you'll need to keep and eye on shutter speed and ISO settings to keep up wit the ever changing light.

A great way to keep up with the ever changing light is to set your camera to AV (aperture priority), where you just control the aperture and the camera does the rest. If you are using a tripod, aim to retain maximum image quality as far as possible by fixing ISO to its base level. The camera will then adjust the shutter speed accordingly

If you are hand holding, then you'll probably want to set the camera to auto ISO, so that both shutter speed and ISO are automaticlly selected to ensure sharp results.


Dealing With Direct Sunlight

golden hours

Image Copyright: David Fleet

Shooting in the golden hours means adapting to fast changing light.

Direct sunlight can produce some cool effects. But be careful - not just for the sake of your eyes - but because it can throw your camera's light meter right off! The sun itself is such a strong source of light, it tends to confuse cameras' metering systems.

To get a properly exposed photo which includes the sun, take your meter reading from an area slightly to the side of the sun, with the sun just out of frame.

Press 'exposure lock', if you camera has this feature, and now re-compose your shot without making any adjustments to the settings. You should now have a beautifully exposed shot that captures all the tones and colours correctly.



In general, the light at the golden hours really is the best for beautiful landscape photography. Almost all photographers can create stunning images just by taking advantage of this daily phenomenon.

But remember, for the best results, plan your shot carefully, use a tripod and keep an eye on your camera's settings as the sunrise or sunset progresses. Now start adding some wonderful shots to your portfolio!

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