Natural Light & The Golden Hour

Let's talk about natural light and a term photographer's use often, The Golden Hour!

This time of day occurs around sunrise and sunset when the light is soft and golden.  Because this light is so flattering, it’s the ideal time to take portraits outside! If you’re scheduling your bridal or group portraits for a wedding or are thinking of investing in an outdoor photo shoot, consider the time of day and how the natural light will affect your images. 

So when exactly is sunrise and sunset time throughout the year? I enjoy using SunCalc when figuring out when the sunrise and sunset times will be.  When using SunCalc, be sure to enter the location of your photo shoot.  Initially, you'll see the times for dawn, sunrise, solar noon, sunset, and dusk.  The "more detailed" option will also point out night, astronomical twilight, nautical twilight, civil twilight, and the full daylight hours.

For morning sessions, I encourage clients to arrive at sunrise. The morning light can be soft up to 60 or 90 minutes after sunrise. Before you cross an early AM photo shoot off your list, it's also important to note that there are fewer tourists at the prime location spots during sunrise hours.  Depending on the length of a photo shoot in the evening, I usually encourage clients to link up anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour before sunset. Shooting through sunset time and into civil twilight time (or vice versa with a sunrise session) can also create some amazing images.

Throughout this blog post, you'll see photo examples that occurred during the Golden Hour.  You'll notice an overall sense of soft lighting as well as the direction of the sunlight.  You'll also notice some couples standing in the shade, which creates a soft light.  A partly cloudy day can also be great for outdoor photos because the clouds diffuse the sunlight, making it a little softer.

Below are photo examples of what the natural light can look like on a sunny day outside of the Golden Hours.  If your photo shoot is occurring on the beach or in a wide open space that doesn't provide shade, you may end up with a harder sense of light versus soft. The first batch images were shot mid-April before the Golden Hour between 4:00-5:30pm; sunset occurs around 7:45pm this time of year in Bermuda.  The second batch of images was shot mid-May between 6:00-7:30pm; sunset time is around 8:15pm this time of year.  Although sometimes it is simply not possible to schedule a photo shoot during the Golden Hours.  So what then?

Great question; glad you asked! Consider scheduling your photo shoot as close to the Golden Hour as possible.  Shooting at solar noon and surrounding daylight hours will yield hard light and is not advised.  You may also want to consider your location choice; does your location choice offer shade to stand under for diffused light? Be sure to explain your concerns to your photographer and get their ideas on how to capture the best natural light. In some situations, a flash can be used to fill in the shadows.  However, that's a topic for another blog post!