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Capturing The Magic Of Golden Hour Photography

By Sheena Koontz | Inspiration

Sunsets are a magical time when the world seems to slow down, and the earth takes a deep breath while waiting for night to fall. It’s no surprise that some of the most breathtaking shots are captured during the early morning or late afternoon light—after all, it’s called the Golden Hour for a reason.

Sunrise and sunset photography are all about timing. Sure, you can just happen to be in the right place at the right time, but the most spectacular shots are premeditated. Scout out locations in advance and plan to be there early enough to set up equipment.

Since the most vibrant sunsets happen right after a good downpour of rain, it's a good idea to use websites like this to keep track of the sun’s position and weather forecast as you plan to set up shop. Consider this a great opportunity to slow down and practice some photography techniques that you may be a bit rusty on. Once you've got your golden shots, we'll show you how to make them award-winning with the BeFunky Photo Editor!

Recommended Equipment

  • DSLR Camera
  •  Wide Angle lens preferred, but a stock lens will do.
  • Tripod
  • Shutter Release Cable
  • Graduated Neutral Density (GND) Filter
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Tweaking the Camera Settings

There are a few settings on the camera that need to be changed so you can capture the colors you see with your eyes (versus what the camera thinks you’re seeing). Start by switching the white balance from auto to daylight. Next, change the AF (autofocus) from automatic to manual. These two changes will give you more control over how you compose your shot and keep some crazy lighting situations from occurring.


Working the Exposure Triangle

Many photographers prefer aperture priority mode when photographing sunsets. This gives you better control over depth of field. The shutter speed will change based on what type of results you desire. When working with water, you may want to slow down the shutter speed to achieve a smoother water flow, or speed up the shutter for darker contrast, and a more vibrant sky line.

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Pro Tip: One of the not-so-secret tricks to getting a vibrant sunset shot is underexposing. Slightly underexposing the shot will produce a more dramatic effect. You can manually tweak exposure settings and more using the Levels tool.

A good starter point for ISO is at the lowest setting (usually 100), which you can gradually increase for shorter exposure times if desired. Choose the smallest aperture that will still allow a shutter speed of at least 1/50 to 1/30 of a second. Again, these are just a few starting points, so you may need to make some tweaks as you go.

Enhancing Composition

Composition is the most crucial skill necessary for capturing a brilliant golden hour shot. When in doubt, I say stick to the rule of thirds, but don’t be afraid to experiment. Some photographers are born with a great eye for composition, and others find it later with the use of a cropping tool—which you can easily find in the BeFunky Photo Editor.

Don’t fret if it doesn’t come naturally. Composition is an art that anyone can become an expert in with a little work.

In the image below, you can see the sun setting towards the right. This shot would be more appealing if it was cropped so that the sunset was in a more dominant position...which we're going to achieve by using the Crop Tool in the Photo Editor.

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Pro Tip: Try and find an interesting foreground object to add depth to your scene. Look for reflective surfaces such as water or metal to add a surprising aspect to the shot. And take a moment, observe your surroundings and find angles to create a unique perspective.

Image Stabilization Tips

No one wants a blurry sunset image. There are several ways to reduce the dreaded camera shake that can leave images blurry. Most important are to invest in a sturdy tripod and shutter release cable. These two items can make a huge difference when attempting shots with a slower shutter speeds. Also, some cameras have a mirror lockup function, which will cause the DSLR mirror to stay in the up position and help reduce camera shake.

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Fun Ways to Add Artistic Flare

  • Create a burst effect around the sun by changing the aperture to f/22 and keeping the ISO low
  • Add a silhouette to the foreground by speeding up the shutter speed.  Choose an object that has a defined shape and will not distract too much from the sunset
  • Relocate the position of the horizon for a different perspective.  The sun is usually the focus of most sunset photography shots, but altering focus can dramatically change the scene and making it more appealing
  • Take a series of shots in the same location, changing the exposure levels to create a high dynamic range (HDR) photograph.  This will require some editing software to complete, but is well worth the effort
  • If you've already taken the pictures, it's never too late to add in some digital flare using the snazzy Photo Effects sections in the Photo Editor
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Remember, looking directly into the sun is harmful to your eyes. Feel free to wear sunglasses (just don’t forget to remove the sunglasses when looking at your LCD screen!). Once you've capture golden hour photos in all their glory, head on over to the BeFunky Photo Editor to make those final edits.

Photo Editing, Simplified.

Photo Editing. Simplified