Tips and Tricks for Taking Magic Hour Photos

Whether you’re an amateur or a budding professional photographer, you’ve probably heard a lot of talk about the “magic hour” or the “golden hour.” While it may go by many names, the term always refers to the same thing: the perfect time to take photos.

Let’s take a closer look at what the “magic hour” is and how to take advantage of it.

What is Magic Hour?

In the photography world, magic hour is exactly what it sounds like – that magical time of day when the light is just right for capturing magical photos. Some photographers call it the “golden” hour, but we feel magic is a more appropriate description.

The magic hour is that time of day when the sun drenches its golden light everywhere, transforming the entire world around you into an other-worldly, magical place.

When does all this magic happen? Sunrise and sunset – when the sun is near the horizon.

Just before the sun rises and sets, its light becomes hazy to provide just the right light for photos.

What Makes Magic Hour Photos Better than Midday Photos?

Timing a photo session for the hour of sunrise or sunset can be a challenge, but is worth the effort.

When photos are taken midday, or in between the magic hours, the light can be especially harsh because it’s directly overhead. Hold a flashlight over the top of your head and notice the not-so-flattering shadows it casts on your face.

When photos are taken during the golden hours (either at sunrise or sunset), the sun casts its light directly at your face in a soft, warm way. During the magic hour, the sun’s light travels through the atmosphere and other points in the sky. The atmosphere acts almost like a diffuser to soften the light. The end result? More even light – which translates into a more evenly exposed photograph.

When the sun is low in the sky, it casts longer and softer shadows. These shadows, coupled with the even exposure, allow you to create incredible depth with your photos.

3 Tips and Tricks for Shooting During Magic Hour

1. Plan the Shoot

A little planning can go a long way in making sure you walk away with several perfet shots instead of just a few good photos.

The golden hour occurs during the first and last hour of sunlight, so you only have a short window of opportunity to take advantage of natural light.

First, decide whether you want to shoot in the morning or evening hours. The morning sun offers pure light that creates soft shadows. The evening sun creates harsher shadows and a more golden hue.

Next, find out when the “golden hour” is in your area. There are free apps and websites that can help you do that.

On the day of the shoot, arrive early so that you can start shooting as soon as the light is right. Make the most of the golden hour and take as many photos as you can. If you’re shooting portraits, make sure the subject is ready to go as soon as the magic hour begins.

2. Change Your White Balance Setting

In most cases, auto white balance is the best option when taking photos. But when you’re shooting during the golden hour, the “cloudy” setting is best.

Opting for the cloudy setting will help preserve the sun’s warm glow.

3. Add Interest with Flares and Rim Lighting

Lens flare and rim lighting can add interest and an artistic effect to your golden hour photos.

When an excess amount of light enters the camera, it creates a lens flare, which causes the light to scatter and reflect. The effect creates starbursts and circles within the image. In the right setting and with the right subject, lens flare can really create a stunning photo.

When shooting in the magic hour, most photographers will face the subject towards the sun. The sun adds a warm glow, and the diffused light allows for even exposure.

But rim lighting can create an interesting effect that adds drama to the photo.

Rim lighting occurs when the subject is facing away from the sun. In this position, the sun’s rays create a golden glow around the subject, which sets it apart from the background.