Of course, golden hour is known for it’s amazing lighting, but what makes that lighting the best of the day? Is it really so good that shooting at that time is more important than a kid’s bedtime or nap time or a parent’s work schedule? YES, and I want to explain what our love for this time of day does for your photos!
The Shadows. Overhead sunlight creates terrible shadows on your cheeks, which are cast by your brow bones, and on your chin and upper lip, which are cast from your lips and nose. Shadows like this are not flattering and lead to skin tone issues in post processing. The highlighted skin is bleached out and too white while the shadowed skin is oversaturated and more orange than it should be. So, it’s impossible to have an even skin tone over your entire face. You can see an example of this candid moment on a wedding day with high sunlight on a groom’s face. When the sun is too high in the sky, it’s hard to avoid this from happening!
The Warmth. The lighting that comes within 2 hours of sunrise or sunset is warmer than the lighting during the middle of the day. Warmer light leads to warmer, livelier skin tones and more accurate color of your surroundings. When the sun shines too intensely on grass, it can either get completely washed out or it can become a non-realistic neon, highlighter green color. The same happens with blooming flowers. When the light is high and too intense, it can drain blooms of their color, which leaves them looking washed out. Warmer light that is lower in the sky brings out the richness of the color surrounding you as well as the color in your skin tone. See the image below with a lot of color and how the sun complements that color instead of draining it.
The Sunflare. When the sun is too high in the sky, it is also too high to be captured inside the camera lens. This is some geometry right now, so bear with me. When my camera is pointed at my client, whether standing or sitting, the sun has to be at a lower angle in the sky in order to come to view through my lens behind my client. When the sun is higher in the sky, it is out of my lens and therefore, I cannot capture any sunflare even with the widest of lenses. But when it’s a little lower, I can position myself at an angle to my client to get both my client and the sun in my viewfinder. Honestly, this sunflare is what I live for. Now I don’t like it to make my photos too hazy, so I will also use some sort of diffuser like a mountain or a tree or a building, but sunflare in an image is what takes it from good to amazing in my opinion! Check out a little sunflare in the first image of this email but also in the image below!
The Temperature. This one is neither true year round nor is it one I can show an example of, but it is always true for summer. What is the first thing you think of when you think of summer? Heat. Hot. Sweating. I love summer. I love having the kids out of school, staying up late, and going swimming, but the heat of summer during a photo session is definitely not ideal. Babies are crankier, parents are sweating through their clothes, toddlers are throwing more tantrums…it just does not set us up well for success. As that sun gets lower in the sky, however, temperatures are a little cooler and more bearable. Those lower temperatures contribute a LOT to the success of my summer portrait sessions!
The Hot Spots. When the sun is super high in the sky, shooting in shade is must. Shady spots help avoid the shadows I mentioned in #1, but they can also result in giant hot spots where the sun is coming through in areas behind you. From a technical perspective, when you are standing in shade, you are in lower light. To expose correctly for you, as the subject, my camera lets in more light, but because the light behind you is brighter, it appears overexposed. This leads to bleached out highlights in the background. There are ways to avoid this if the background and the subject are both in shade, like someone standing against a shaded building, but most scenarios don’t include continuous shade so you’re left with hotspots in the background.
The Squinting. With brighter sun comes squinty eyes, and if you’re squinting for too long, it’s generally followed by a headache. Now, your photographer isn’t going to ask you to stare straight into the sun, but the sun reflecting off a concrete surface, white gravel, or even a wide open grassy field can make you feel like you’re squinting even if the sun isn’t directly in your eyes. The image below was during family photos where we had cloud coverage, and then, all of a sudden, the sun popped out. This is what squinty eyes looks like in a photo, and the shadows from #1 are also displayed in this photo. Just not an ideal situation!
The Position. The position of the sun in the sky is what makes golden hour so perfect. It’s what prevents shadows and squinting, brings warmth and sunflare, and takes away hotspots. I mentioned sunflare earlier and how much I love bringing that bit of sunlight into my lens through a tree or over a building, but as the sun is right above the horizon, I love positioning it to either be shining directly on my clients (like the first image below) or directly behind my clients (like the second image below). This can ONLY happen right at sunrise or sunset when the sun is on the horizon line. Again with some geometry, it’s all about the angle of me to my client and my client to the sun. Photos like these are more unique and a great variation to the traditional portraits we will capture the rest of the time during your session!
That’s it, guys. That is why we love golden hour so much! Paying a professional to take photos for you is too much of an investment to let lighting spoil the epicness of your photos. If you have a work schedule that doesn’t allow for sunset timing or a child that HAS to go to bed at 7:00pm, I always recommend a sunrise session. Yes, it stinks waking up that early, but it’s just one day. If you have littles, they will likely be WAY happier at that time of day, and you can even treat them to a special little breakfast treat afterwards. Trust me when I tell you it is worth it to wake up super early than shoot with terrible lighting.
Thanks for being here, friends. As always, I am so grateful for your support!
I’m a Knoxville Wedding Photographer that loves to travel. I shoot anywhere! Click here to contact me with any questions you have about pricing or booking! If you liked what you saw above, go ahead and follow me on Facebook or Instagram to see my daily updates of the latest sessions!
See more from Amanda May Photos:
A lot of moving pieces go into planning a wedding day timeline, and we know it's easy to feel like a hot mess! Grab our free guide to plan the perfect timeline for your day.