Photographing Autumn’s golden hour.

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It’s that time of the year, when the sun lowers, the light softens, the days grow shorter and the weather becomes crisper. The dry, clear air allows more light to envelope the skies, without being scattered by particles, therefore, resulting in vibrant sunsets.  

Fiery sunrises and sunsets are dubbed the name “the golden hour” by photographers who speak highly of the brief, fleeting hour. They swear by the golden hour as the best time of day to capture the right lighting. Lighting is the one thing that can make or break a picture. Regardless of how beautiful the scenery is, without the right lighting you’ll be left with a flat and dull image.

  Image source: Nathan Dumlao

What is the golden hour?  

As mentioned the golden hour occurs twice a day at dawn and dusk. It’s the first and last hour of light directly after sunrise and shortly before sunset. During these notable hours the sun is low in the horizon, coating everything in a soft and diffused light. The warm glow adds a dreamlike feel to the atmosphere, while the long shadows concentrate on details, adding texture and depth to the image.

Professional photographers thoroughly follow the golden hour; so much so that they now have apps calculating the times of the daily golden hours. However, if you prefer to go by the day or plan a week ahead, you can follow your local sunrise and sunset times.  

There is no limitation to what type of outdoor photography the golden hour can be applied to. The list can range from landscapes to urban environments, from portraits to still life, from vegetation to vehicles and so on.   

Image source: Adam Wilson

Tips when shooting  

Once you’ve chosen your location and calculated the timing, you’re all set to go with a few additional tips.   

Rule number one: You’ve heard it before, use a tripod. Times closest to sunrise and sunset in autumn can be exceptionally dark. Therefore, using a tripod will work to your favour. It will help you avoid camera shakes and blurs. While you set your ISO low and use a long exposure.  

Give yourself time: Nature can be unpredictable. The start and duration of the golden hour each day will vary. Golden hour doesn’t necessarily last an hour. Therefore, it’s essential for you to give yourself plenty of spare time to reach your location and set-up.  

Balanced exposure: There can be a tonal difference between shadows and highlights. For example, if you’re capturing the sky, its brightness will overpower the scene below creating a silhouette effect. To balance the difference in brightness, use your camera’s exposure composition feature (+/- button) and take pictures of the scene with different levels of brightness. Another option to consider is a graduated filter that is tinted at one end and transparent on the other. This will reduce the exposure on half of the image.  

Adjust the white balance: Every light source comes with a different colour temperature. When shooting during the golden hour set your white balance to “cloudy” rather than auto white balance to avoid the risk of neutralising the golden hue.  

Don’t stop at one shot: The light during the golden hour changes exceptionally quickly, leaving you with a different scene every few minutes. Make the most of your time and shoot for the entire hour.  

Get creative with lighting: The golden hour works well with both front and backlight. Front light bathes the subject in beautiful, golden lighting. While backlight offers a number of creative photography opportunities. For instance, by placing your subject in front of the sun you can either create stunning silhouettes and/ or lens flare. 

It will be a long hour: Make sure you go prepared with a flask containing your favourite hot drink, a fully charged phone and a torch (if needed). These minor essentials will come in handy; a torch while you’re walking, a warm drink to keep you and your hands warm and a phone while you wait.  

Image source: Austin Mabe

Main image source: Cindy Del Valle

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