Taking photos in the golden hour

Professional photographers often say that the most important thing that you can learn when it comes to photography is how to look for the light. A lot of people know that it is flattering to take a photo where your subject is situated in front of a light source, it makes for flattering bright eyes. But what about if you take a photo where the light is behind you? This type of photography is called backlit photography and if you can master it then it is really flattering and lovely. But it is quite tricky to work out and I have tried so many times, only to get home and my images be blown out and too bright.

My absolute favourite type of photography is that bright golden sunshine where you take a photo with the sun behind your subject. Known as the golden hour, it refers to the time when the sun is just rising or just setting. Obviously in the summer this means it is quite early in the morning or quite late at night, which if you are taking photos of young children can be a problem, but if you are on holiday sometimes the sun sets a bit earlier or you are more inclined to be up early as well. The best time to shoot golden hour photos is in autumn where it sets a bit earlier and rises a bit later.

This kind of photography style definitely takes practice and it is one I have tried umpteen times over the years, and still even get wrong now. I wanted to give some tips on taking photos in the Golden Hour. I hope they help!

Getting lens flare

It isn’t everyone’s cup of tea but I love it when you get lens flare on photos as I just generally like that type of magical artistic look. One way of getting that kind of lens flare is when you position your subject with the sun behind them, but make sure that they don’t block it completely- that way the light hits your lens in different ways. You can position yourself so you get different varying flares. Another tip is to slightly overexpose your camera settings so you get more detail in the photo. (If you are using a camera phone then they are often really good at capturing lens flare automatically)

The above 4 photos show how you can get varying degrees lens flare. In the first one I love the flare that has appeared in the bottom half of the photo.  In the second one Mr E took the photo so the setting sun was just above the baby’s head, making it so it looked all golden and hazy. And in the third one I deliberately put my little girl to the right hand side of the photo so it gave a different perspective and the light was setting behind the house. In the last one it shows how different objects can create lens flare. This was taken in the middle of winter and the sun was low in the sky. The trees obscure the sun slightly so it makes for some lens flare which adds a nice touch to the photography while the focus is still on my little girls and their colourful jackets.

Getting beautiful bokeh

Bokeh is essentially when you get that lovely blurred background and when you are shooting in the golden hour this can make for a really magical effect. Things like the sand behind you or bubbles popping can look really beautiful when blurred in the golden light. In order to achieve the best bokeh you want to put your DSLR on manual mode and just practice. Bokeh is achieved by shooting ‘wide open’ that means with an aperture/f stop with a low number e.g 2.8 or even 1.8 if your lens will allow it. Focus on your subject and make sure the sun is behind you and it will create a lovely blurred background. If you are shooting with a camera phone or a compact camera you won’t be able to get quite the same effect, but you still can if you make sure your subject is large and in focus in the frame.

Below are some photos that I have taken that highlight the kind of bokeh you can get in the golden hour…

In the first photo my little girl is sat on a pebbly beach but by shooting wide open the pebbles are blurred and look almost golden, while the focus is on her sunglasses and my reflection in them. In the next one this was taken in winter at about 4pm in the afternoon. By capturing the sun setting between the trees it meant that the background trees have that lovely circle bokeh effect that looks so flattering. And finally in the last one I have deliberately taken a photo when my little girl is at the side of the frame, it means that all around her she looks like she is in a sea of yellow. By shooting with an aperture of 2.8 it means that the flowers all merge into the background, while around her I still get some detail of the flowers themselves.

Hazy halos

Another one of my favourite effects when it comes to golden hour photography is when you capture a hazy, golden rim light around your subjects face and hair. I think this makes for a beautiful photograph.  When doing this kind of photography you are definitely going to need to put your camera on manual mode as when you are on automatic the camera will try and read the scene for you, resulting in it completely exposing the background and making the subject too dark. A tip again is to make sure you slightly over expose as well to capture the detail in your subjects face. Also make sure you focus on their eyes so their eyes are sharp and in focus. With most DSLR cameras you will have the option to move focus points.

Above are some examples of taking photos with the sun behind you so you get that hazy halo effect on your subjects head. 

And finally…

 It is quite a hard photography skill to master and I still get it wrong even now. But don’t be afraid to experiment because you might find that you get a photo you really like.

In the below photo it was winter around 11am and by lying on the floor it meant that even though the sun was quite high I still managed to get that hazy golden effect. Although any passers by might have thought I was a little strange!

Image source: Mummy Daddy Me
Image source: Mummy Daddy Me

And lastly in this final photograph we were driving home from a day out and the sky was a vibrant pink but it was also raining. I hadn’t seen a sky like that before so I made my husband stop off in a supermarket car park and get out in the rain so I could take this photo. I had to set my ISO really high as it was really dark and if you look closely you can actually see the rain drops but I like the grainy effect it gives. Definitely don’t be afraid to experiment!

Image source: Mummy Daddy Me
Image source: Mummy Daddy Me


Katie Ellison

Katie Ellison has been writing on her blog Mummy Daddy Me since 2011, a visual diary of the adventures her little family of 5 get up to. It's a record of all the ordinary moments, extraordinary moments and all those ones in between. You can see more of her photos on her favourite photos page.

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