How to Use Beautiful Golden Hour Light for Portraits

Shooting during Golden Hour isn’t just for landscape photography. In this behind-the-scenes video you’ll get some great ideas and see how lens flares and using the setting sun can be great for shooting people too.

When I first started learning about photography I was told by almost everyone that if you wanted to shoot people in the setting sun, you needed fill flashes, reflectors, and lots of other kinds of fancy gear. So I went along with it all and honed my skills but I have to be honest and say that I never really liked the "look" that I was getting.

Yes, my shots were technically good. Yes, they were devoid of harsh shadows. Yes, they were well exposed. But to me, they lacked character and life. I suppose that’s because I grew up at the beach and I love that warm, almost washed out look. Kind of like many Corona ads you see in magazines.

Maybe that’s just me. But with a little daughter who loves cavorting across the beach and the late afternoon sun I don't have time to set up or carry around lumps of gear, so I've come to almost exclusively shoot backlit photos of her with that kind of lens flare look. Of course, just my preference, but I do think It’s important to find what you like as an individual and not necessarily follow all the rules.

In this video, fashion and portrait photographer, Jessica Kobeissi, takes you behind the scenes of one of her model shoots in a park during Golden Hour. It’s not instructional, as there are no words spoken, but it does show you how she uses natural light and different angles to get some really great shots of her subject — all without the use of any flashes or reflectors. She has almost 1 million subscribers on YouTube and 25,000 on Instagram, so it's good to see how successful photographers go about their business. 

What about you? Do you have any examples of backlit portraits, lens flare shots, or techniques for using the setting sun to shoot portraits or life shots?​

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Robert Nurse's picture

I've often wondered if there was a preferred method of meter shots like these. You can clearly make out the models features. Yet the background isn't blown out. Perhaps the shadows are brought up in post.

Joe Feldman's picture

You can spot meter for the model but you would be blowing out the background. I think she just exposes for the background and then raises the shadows quite a bit in post. This would all be helped and in my opinion improved if you have a reflector to bounce light back at the model to even out the exposure in the shot. She probably just didn't have another person to hold it or I am sure she would have used it.

Iain Stanley's picture

Yes I agree but I like the fact there is no reflector used or fill flash or anything else but the camera. I know gear is used for a reason, but sometimes it's nice to just play with light and the camera in your hand. I know far too many people who insist they can't go out shooting if they don't have 'X' amount of equipment at the ready.

I think it's nonsense to rely on gear so much that you refuse to even countenance taking photos without your gadgets. Don't get me wrong, I'm as much a lover of gear as the next photographer, but I also try to be mindful that the imagination and the use of natural light should always be at the forefront of my ideas.

As I said in the article I take my daughter for walks in the afternoon sun almost every day, so there's nothing in my hand except my camera and my pancake 40mm attached. Thus, I love the lens flare look, even though I'm sure my photos could be significantly improved if I had a whole bunch of gear at my disposal....

Richard Bradbury's picture

The light is very flat and the exposure seem off.

You can shoot for the background and raise shadows but IMO it never looks that good. Better to add and control the direction of light, but then it's each to own.

If you exposed well for the model the backgrounds would mostly be lost.

Lou Bragg's picture

I wonder if there is such a thing as less expensive silver hour too ....

Robert Nurse's picture

High noon? 😂

Lou Bragg's picture

Got it!! 😅