Essential Golden Hour Photoshoot Tips for Photographers

Essential Golden Hour Photoshoot Tips for Photographers

Golden hour is a magical time of the day for photography, characterized by warm and soft light that can turn even the most mundane scenes into stunning works of art. This period occurs twice a day, during the hour after sunrise and the hour before sunset, and is highly sought after by photographers for its dreamy and ethereal qualities.

If you're planning a golden hour photoshoot, there are a few things you should keep in mind to maximize your shots and capture the beauty of this special time of day. In this article, we'll go over some essential tips and tricks to help you make the most of your golden hour photography sessions.

Here's what we'll cover in this article:

  • Move Fast and Maximize Your Shots
  • Use Sunseeker to Plan Around the Position of the Sun
  • Capture Flares
  • Find Trees and Fields for a Magical Feel
  • Maximize Your Dynamic Range For Sunsets
  • Find Foreground Elements
  • Consider Using Direct Light
  • Consider Using Flash (If it matches your style)

All of the images are provided by the wedding photographers at Wedding Maps.

Move Fast and Maximize Your Shots

The golden hour is a fleeting moment, and the light changes rapidly. Move quickly to capture as many shots as possible without sacrificing quality or attention to detail. Scout your location beforehand and have a plan in mind so that you can make the most of your time. Don't waste too much time changing locations or setting up too much gear unless it's absolutely necessary. Instead, focus the time on getting different angles, poses, and fields of view to vary your shots and create a diverse collection of images.

Photo by Zack Bradley (Website) at San Souci Farm in Sumter, SC United States

Photo by Lin and Jirsa (Website)

Use Sunseeker to Plan Around the Position of the Sun

Knowing the position of the sun is critical during a golden hour photoshoot. Sunseeker is an app that can help you determine the exact location of the sun at any given time, making it easier for you to plan your shots and compositions. You can use it to predict when the golden hour will start and end and plan your location and set up accordingly.

Remember, the stated sunset time on weather apps might be different from the actual time that the sun sets below the horizon in your particular location, especially if there are mountains, hills, or buildings in the way.

Photo by Vow of the Wild (Website | Wedding Maps Profile) at Coconino National Forest in Sedona, Arizona United States

Capture Flares

Golden hour light can create beautiful lens flares, adding an extra element of interest to your photos. To capture flares, position your camera towards the sun and experiment with different angles and apertures to create different types of flares. See a few examples of sun flare photography during golden hour photoshoots.

Photo by Belinda Philleo (Website) at Crystal Cove in Orange County, CA

Photo by JCM Photography (Website) at Pisgah National Forest in Canton, North Carolina United States

Photo by Laurentiu Nica (Website | Wedding Maps Profile) at Un Colt de Rai in Dolj County, Romania

Strong Flares

Flares can be subtle, as shown in the image above, or flares can be prominent and take up a large part of the composition, as you see in the image below.

Photo by Michael Freas (Website) at Fort Zachary Taylor in Key West, Florida

Orange Cast

Flares can also help create a strong orange cast on the entire image, creating a moody feel to the image.

Photo by Ladman Studios (Website) at Gillette Castle in East Haddam, Connecticut

Photo by Kivus and Camera (Website) at Melrose Knitting Mill in Raleigh, North Carolina

Photo by Jay Cassario (Website) at Hotel Republic in San Diego, CA

Find Trees and Fields for a Magical Feel

The warm golden light of the sun shining through trees and fields can create a magical, fairy tale-like atmosphere in your photos. Look for locations with plenty of foliage or grass, and position your subject in front of the light to create a natural, dreamy glow. See some examples of golden hour with trees and fields below.

Photo by Andy Sidders Photography (Website) at Fanhams Hall in Hertfordshire, England

Photo by Danieka at Picturist Photography (Website) at Private Family Home in Santa Cruz, California

Photo by Fits and Stops Photography (Website | Wedding Maps Profile) at UC Davis Arboretum in Davis, California United States

Capture Wide Angle Photos During Golden Hour

During golden hour, the natural light casts a beautiful glow over your subject as well as the entire scene. A wide angle lens allows you to capture a wider view of the scene, which can create a sense of depth and scale. With soft light hitting all of the elements of the scene, choosing a wide angle view can create beautiful environmental portraits, such as the ones you see below.

Photo by Larsen Photo Co (Website) at Rocky Mountain National Park in Estes Park, CO

Photo by Andreas Pollok (Website) at Schloss Assumstadt in Baden Württemberg Germany

Photo by Ether Photography Studios (Website | Wedding Maps Profile) at Death Valley in California

Photo by Holding and Co (Website) at Serendipity Garden Weddings in Oak Glen, CA

Maximize Your Dynamic Range for Sunsets

Sunsets are an especially beautiful time of golden hour, but they can be challenging to capture correctly. To get the most out of your sunset shots, maximize your camera's dynamic range, which is the range of light levels from the brightest to the darkest parts of the image. Understand your camera's dynamic range performance and use your histogram to ensure that you're not clipping any of the shadows or blowing out any of the highlights. The results can be stunning and allow you to capture beautiful sunset colors.

Photo by 4 Eyes Photography (Website) at Moraine Lake in Banff, AB Canada

Photo by Frank Balzan (Website) at Golden Bay in Mellieha, Malta

Photo by Tove Lundquist (Website) at Örum 119 in Löderup Sweden

Find Foreground Elements

Foreground elements can add depth and interest to your golden hour shots. Look for objects in the foreground, such as rocks, flowers, buildings, trees, leaves, or wedding veils, and position your subject to add interest to the photos.

Photo by Joanna and Brett (Website) at Tucson Desert in Tucson, Arizona

Photo by Stefani Ciotti (Website) at Deer Creek Ridge in Malibu, CA

Photo by Jessie and Dallin (Website) at Tunnel Springs in Utah

Photo by BridgetQ Photography (Website) at Mt. Wachusett in Princeton, MA 

Consider Using Direct Light

Most golden hour portraits are taken with a backlight. However, direct light during the golden hour can also create interesting, beautiful lighting for your portraits. See some examples below.

Photo by Christopher S Studio (Website) at The Briarcliff Manor in New York

Photo by Roddy Chung (Website) at Ray's Boathouse in Seattle, WA U.S.A.

Consider Using Flash (If It Matches Your Style)

If your style includes flash photography, consider using it during the golden hour to add fill light or create a more dramatic effect. Flash allows you to light up the subjects while properly exposing for the background. Combined with dramatic sunsets and clouds, the results can be stunning.

Photo by Lazzat Photography (Website) at Tavares Pavilion in Tavares, FL 

Photo by Bright Light Studios (Website) at Liberty State Park in Jersey City, NJ United States

Capture Silhouettes and Moody Images at Golden Hour

Instead of exposing for your subjects or using flash to add light, consider leaving the subjects dark as a silhouette or a near silhouette. Silhouettes have the power to create a sense of mystery and mood for portraits. By obscuring the details of the subject's features and focusing instead on their outline, silhouettes can convey a sense of anonymity and intrigue. This can be particularly effective in creating a moody or dramatic atmosphere for the photograph. The lack of facial features also allows the viewer to focus on the overall composition and the subject's pose and body language, which can communicate emotions and ideas in a powerful way.

Photo by Andreas Pollok (Website) at Hoher Darsberg in Baden Württemberg Germany

Photo by Luzye Photography (Website) at San Clemente Pier, CA

Photo by Stephen Walker (Website) at Liverpool in Merseyside England

Photo by Loc Le (Website) at MT Rainier in Seattle WA

Create Your Own Golden Hour If Necessary

Creating a faux golden hour is also possible using flash and orange gels. This technique is particularly useful for cloudy days or indoor scenes. See this example below.

Photo by Jason Vinson (Website) at St Catherine at Bell Gable in Fayetteville AR

More Golden Hour Photoshoot Examples and Inspiration

Now that we've provided you with the tips, here are more examples of golden hour photoshoots to inspire your creativity.

Photo by Irina Duane (Website) at Bunmahon Beach in Bunmahon in Ireland

Photo by Natasha Lamalle (Website) at Meridian Hill Park in Washington DC

Photo by Kristina Corbett (Website) at Mineral Ridge Scenic Area in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho United States

Photo by 1836 Photographie (Website) at Paniolo Ranch in Boerne, Texas

Photo by Andy Madea Photo (Website) at The Barn at Boyden Farm in Cambridge, Vermont

Photo by Gretchen Troop (Website) at Rocky Mountain National Park in Estes Park, Colorado

Photo by Stephen Sedman (Website | Wedding Maps Profile) at Scituate Country Club in Scituate, MA

Photo by Kristin Cheatwood (Website) at Cloverleaf Farm in Athens, GA

Photo by Afonso Godinho (Website) in Porto Portugal

Photo by Thien Tong (Website) at InterContinental Phu Quoc - Long Beach in Vietnam

Photo by Party of Two (Website) at Hawkesdene in Andrews, NC


Golden hour is a beautiful and magical time of day for photography. By following these tips and tricks, you can make the most of your golden hour photoshoots and capture stunning images that showcase the natural beauty and warm, soft light of this special time of day. Remember to move fast, plan your shots around the position of the sun, capture flares, find trees and fields, maximize your dynamic range for sunsets, find foreground elements, consider using direct light, and consider using flash if it matches your style. With these tips, you'll be able to create beautiful and memorable photos that capture the essence of the golden hour.

Pye Jirsa's picture

Pye Jirsa is a director, photographer and educator. Founder and Partner of Lin and Jirsa Photography, a boutique Southern California wedding and portrait photography studio, and SLR Lounge, a photography education website, Pye devotes his time to helping photographers develop their shooting and business skills.

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1 Comment

When I use to shot weddings, this was my favourite time of day. Especially with the sun behind the bride and groom. Creating that halo effect. Sadly I do not have any of the images as it was a long time ago, when it was all shooting film.