In pho­tog­ra­phy, there is a con­cept of regime time — this is the time when you need to make less effort to get good pic­tures. There are four such peri­ods every day: two gold­en hours and two blue hours. To learn how to catch this time and how to shoot dur­ing the gold­en and blue hours, read our mate­r­i­al.

Pho­tos tak­en dur­ing the gold­en hour / Pho­to: Alisa Smirno­va, Fotosklad.Expert

What is gold­en and blue hour
What is gold­en hour in pho­tog­ra­phy
What is blue hour in pho­tog­ra­phy
How to cal­cu­late gold­en hour and blue hour
How to shoot dur­ing gold­en hour and blue hour
How to shoot dur­ing the gold­en hour
How to shoot dur­ing blue hour

The gold­en and blue hours are asso­ci­at­ed with the move­ment of the sun. Gold­en hour is the time after sun­rise and before sun­set. Blue hour is the time after sun­set and before dawn. Gold­en hour is ide­al for por­traits, blue hour for land­scapes.

What is golden hour in photography

It is often said about the gold­en hour that the light of the sun at this time becomes espe­cial­ly beau­ti­ful, espe­cial­ly gold­en and all that. In fact, it is, of course, a lyric. For the pho­tog­ra­ph­er, the gold­en hour has two impor­tant advan­tages:

  • good sun height for por­traits;
  • soft­er light that does not blind.

Let’s take a clos­er look. Dur­ing the gold­en hour, the sun is quite low on the hori­zon, thus cre­at­ing a light that is well suit­ed for por­traits: slight­ly over­head fore­ground.

The bright­est, mid­day sun is con­sid­ered the most unfor­tu­nate light for por­traits. When the sun (or any light source) shines ver­ti­cal­ly down­wards, it forms unaes­thet­ic shad­ows on the face. Shad­ows from the eye­brows and eye­lids cre­ate bruis­es under the eyes, plus the eyes them­selves, if they are deep-set in a per­son, dis­ap­pear in the shad­ows.

Top light on the left, low­er front light on the right / Pho­to: petapixel.com

Pay atten­tion to the details: in the pic­ture on the left, the eyes are almost invis­i­ble, it is dif­fi­cult to make out what col­or they are. On the right, this prob­lem does not exist. Also on the right there are no such deep shad­ows under the eyes, nose and lips.

In a word, at the gold­en hour, nature itself expos­es you to the per­fect por­trait light. And it’s a sin not to use it.

The sec­ond plus is that the light becomes soft­er. This is because light pass­es through more of the atmos­phere before sun­set than when the sun is high. This makes the pat­tern of light soft­er, smoother tran­si­tions from light to shad­ow on the face of the mod­el. Plus, the mod­el can safe­ly with­stand the direct light of the sun in the face and not squint, which gives more free­dom when shoot­ing.

In the gold­en hour, you can not be afraid of either the direct sun or hard secu­ri­ty. It will still turn out well / Pho­to: Alisa Smirno­va, Photosklad.Expert

What is blue hour in photography

Blue hour is the time before sun­rise or after sun­set. The essence of the blue hour is that the sun, which is already (or still) hid­den behind the hori­zon, illu­mi­nates the sky, but does not illu­mi­nate the earth. Thus, the sky acquires a beau­ti­ful col­or and bright­ness suit­able for pho­tog­ra­phy.

The blue hour is tra­di­tion­al­ly con­sid­ered a good time for shoot­ing night land­scapes: the sky is already dark, but not yet black. This looks more advan­ta­geous. Plus, if the shoot­ing takes place in the city, by this time the lights and oth­er lights usu­al­ly light up, which also plays into the hands of the pho­tog­ra­ph­er.

A typ­i­cal land­scape tak­en dur­ing the blue hour / Pho­to: unsplash.com

The hard­est part about shoot­ing dur­ing the gold­en and blue hour is to cap­ture that very gold­en and blue hour. Blue and gold­en hours do not nec­es­sar­i­ly last exact­ly one hour — it depends on your geo­graph­i­cal loca­tion and time of year.

The eas­i­est way to cal­cu­late the gold­en and blue hours is to use a spe­cial appli­ca­tion. For exam­ple, Pho­toPills will do just fine with this. It has a fair­ly user-friend­ly inter­face, it exists in ver­sions for iPhone and Android.

The appli­ca­tion auto­mat­i­cal­ly picks up your loca­tion and shows the posi­tion of the sun at a spe­cif­ic point. It has one small draw­back — there is no Russ­ian ver­sion. But to deter­mine the gold­en and blue hours, some kind of super knowl­edge of Eng­lish is not need­ed. The appli­ca­tion has a good visu­al. The app costs about $10. Sun­Calc can be used as a free alter­na­tive.

On August 22, 2022, at our lat­i­tude, there are two gold­en hours and two blue hours, each of which lasts about half an hour / Illus­tra­tion: Alisa Smirno­va, Photosklad.Expert

Here, the inhab­i­tants of the north are in an espe­cial­ly inter­est­ing posi­tion. If in the south the sun cross­es the sky in a straight line, it gets dark quick­ly, which means that the gold­en and blue hours pass with light­ning speed. But in the north, the sun sets in a huge arc in the sum­mer (in the far north it sim­ply cir­cles, descend­ing to the hori­zon, but not set­ting), giv­ing rise to longer twi­light and longer gold­en and blue hours.

For exam­ple, at lat­i­tude 61 in Decem­ber, the gold­en hour lasts all day­light hours: from 9 am to 3 pm. And in June, the blue hour lasts all night, full twi­light does not come / Illus­tra­tion: Alisa Smirno­va, Photosklad.Expert

Now you know what time and how long the blue and gold­en hours are in your area, and you can plan a pho­to ses­sion. But there are a few more things you need to pay atten­tion to before going on the set.

First, both blue and gold­en hours require rel­a­tive­ly clear skies or at least part­ly cloudy skies. If it’s over­cast out­side, then every­thing we talked about above and below does­n’t real­ly mat­ter. There won’t be that spe­cial light, just the soft light of an over­cast day.

Sec­ond­ly, you need to con­sid­er the ter­rain on which you are going to shoot. If there are tall trees or build­ings with the shoot­ing point, it is best to shoot at the very begin­ning of the gold­en hour. It’s even bet­ter to check in advance whether the intend­ed shoot­ing loca­tion will be in the dense shade of build­ings or trees.

How to shoot during the golden hour

Gold­en hour is a fer­tile time for pho­tog­ra­phy, when nature itself does every­thing to make it eas­i­er for you to shoot. Must-try dur­ing the gold­en hour:

Shoot in back­light. Kon­tro­vik + gold­en hour = love for­ev­er. Do not be afraid of the sun behind the main char­ac­ters of the shoot­ing, do not be afraid that it will fall direct­ly into the frame. Most like­ly, every­thing will still be beau­ti­ful.

Dan­de­lions, poplar fluff, ripe wil­low-herb and loose snow in win­ter will glow beau­ti­ful­ly in the back­light at the gold­en hour / Pho­to: Alisa Smirno­va, Photosklad.Expert

Cap­ture sil­hou­ettes. Dark fig­ures against the back­ground of the set­ting or ris­ing sun will dec­o­rate and diver­si­fy the shoot­ing.

Sil­hou­ettes are best shot from a low point / Pho­to: unsplash.com

Try to catch the glare. Many lens­es give inter­est­ing effects when the sun is direct­ly in the frame.

Glare from the back sun / Pho­to: Alisa Smirno­va, Photosklad.Expert

Catch shad­ows. They are usu­al­ly long and beau­ti­ful dur­ing the gold­en hour, and you can take inter­est­ing pho­tos with them.

Clas­sic shad­ow scene shot from a drone / Pho­to: unsplash.com

Cap­ture land­scapes and the city. Gold­en hour is con­sid­ered the ide­al time for por­traits, but this time is gen­er­al­ly very good for pho­tog­ra­phy.

The gold­en hour is not only por­traits, and not only about sum­mer. Grass­es in hoar­frost in the dawn sun is also a great sto­ry / Pho­to: Alisa Smirno­va, Photosklad.Expert

And a lit­tle equip­ment that you need to know when shoot­ing dur­ing the gold­en hour:

- for shoot­ing sil­hou­ettes, it is best to set the expo­sure com­pen­sa­tion to ‑1. Cam­era automa­tion may tend to over­ex­pose the frame;

- set the white bal­ance man­u­al­ly. Most like­ly, the automa­tion will want to com­pen­sate for the yel­low and make the pic­tures too blue;

- if you are shoot­ing a por­trait in back­light and want the faces to be bet­ter worked out, you can use a reflec­tor;

– When shoot­ing in back­light, focus­ing prob­lems may occur. Try shoot­ing in dif­fer­ent aut­o­fo­cus modes: by point, by zone, by field. Here dif­fer­ent cam­eras will behave dif­fer­ent­ly. Read more about how to focus in dif­fi­cult con­di­tions, we wrote here.

The blue hour is a more com­plex and whim­si­cal time, it requires great skills. Most often, land­scapes are shot dur­ing the blue hour.

How to shoot during blue hour

For blue hour pho­tog­ra­phy, you will most like­ly need a tri­pod, as with any land­scape. It will allow you to get a clean­er image with a min­i­mum amount of noise.

A typ­i­cal land­scape tak­en dur­ing the blue hour / Pho­to: unsplash.com

The eas­i­est way to start choos­ing the opti­mal cam­era set­tings for shoot­ing dur­ing the blue hour is from the ISO val­ue — set it to the min­i­mum (most often it is 100 or 200). The aper­ture val­ue can be dif­fer­ent depend­ing on whether we have sev­er­al plans in the frame or not — flow­ers in the fore­ground, bridges in the mid­dle, lake in the far. If there is, it is bet­ter to cov­er the diaphragm, if not, you can work on the open one.

Shut­ter speed is the least impor­tant when shoot­ing land­scapes with a tri­pod. It can be arbi­trar­i­ly long — it will not hurt the land­scape. If you don’t have a tri­pod and you shoot hand­held, choose the shut­ter speed at which you don’t blur the pic­ture due to hand move­ment.

A few more points:

  • bet­ter shoot in RAW so that there is more room for maneu­ver in post-pro­cess­ing;
  • if you have trou­ble aut­o­fo­cus­ing in the dark, try focus­ing man­u­al­ly;
  • be sure to take a flash­light to the shoot­ing so as not to break your legs and not break the cam­era along the way.

The most inter­est­ing in the blue hour are objects that have arti­fi­cial light­ing. It can be build­ings, mon­u­ments, piers, bridges, light­hous­es and so on.

Blue hour, night city / Pho­to: unsplash.com

You can also shoot por­traits dur­ing the blue hour, but you can’t do with­out addi­tion­al light. Nat­ur­al light reflect­ed from the sky is no longer enough. You can use both flash and con­stant light sources.

There are two light sources here: a flash behind the hut and a con­stant on the top right / Pho­to: Pho­to: Alisa Smirno­va, Photosklad.Expert

When shoot­ing blue hour por­traits with arti­fi­cial light, it’s impor­tant to adjust the set­tings so that the flash does­n’t block out the faint light of the sky. We wrote more about how to find a bal­ance between the light of flash­es and the light of the world in this text.