Ever wonder why family photographers prefer to shoot during the golden hour? The answer is pretty simple: the sun is placed at the most flattering and interesting angle for lighting.
What is the golden hour?
The golden hour, also known as the “magic hour”, is the precious time that is just before or after sunset. The golden hour provides a natural light that can be very beautiful and makes for great photos. It is also a time when the environment is at its most peaceful and calming.
If you’re looking to take portrait photography or family photography, the most flattering lighting is light that hits you at a 45-degree angle. This type of lighting will give your photos a more natural look and feel. In the art world, the concept of lighting an object at 45-degree angles is called “Rembrandt” lighting.
The early parts of the golden hour provide Rembrandt lighting
Rembrandt lighting is done with one light source at a 45-degree angle. I try to use this type of lighting because it is flattering under the eyes and neck. While the golden hour is mostly made up of the sun dipping on the horizon, the earlier parts of the hour provide Rembrandt lighting. This is a great time to take pictures that are more lifestyle where you are walking and playing with your children. Later in the hour, the sun will be more to everyone’s side. This type of lighting provides more of a chiaroscuro effect.
Chiaroscuro matters in photography
Chiaroscuro is an artistic term used to describe the use of strong contrasts between light and dark. Photographers use it to create a strong and dramatic mood. If I didn’t consider how light affects your face and everything around you, you’d end up with very flat and boring pictures. I use the end of the golden hour to take advantage of the most flattering and beautiful shadows and highlights.
Photographs taken at high noon are not flattering
While I can take breathtaking photos during full sun it is not ideal for portraits. Have you ever taken a picture in the middle of the day and noticed that you have dark circles under your eyes? Have you also noticed that the sun is too bright and you need your sunglasses? I’m sure you already know that you shouldn’t wear sunglasses for your family portraits! However, you’d be surprised how many times I have to remind people that they are wearing them. If shooting at high noon you will need to shoot portraits in full shade. While this is okay, the background will likely have harsh highlights and shadows; especially when near water.
During the golden hour, you don’t need to photograph in the shadows
My favorite reason for photographing family portraits during the golden hours is the fact that I don’t have to put everyone
in the shadows. I get many more creative options for my lighting during this time. For example, I can angle my lens in a way that creates a flare around my subject, or I can put my subject directly in front of the sun and lens and create a black silhouette. Additionally, I can use natural backlighting to my advantage. I do this by positioning my subject where the highlights are the most flattering. All of these artistic choices are at my fingertips during this hour!
Golden hour enhances the color of the background
Golden hour light has a warm, golden hue to it and is considered to be the most beautiful light for photography. There are several reasons why golden hour light is considered the most beautiful. First, it is usually less bright which makes it easier to capture the beautiful details found in nature. Second, with a warm wash of light, the ordinary looks magical. Have you ever noticed how things appear to sway and twinkle during the golden hour?
There are fewer crowds in the golden hour.
Most people enjoy the great outdoors during the peak sunlight hours. This is great for photographers because that leaves fewer people in the background ruining the perfect shot. However, there will be other families and photographers out during this hour.
The drawbacks of shooting at golden hour
There are two drawbacks to shooting at golden hour. The first is when you shoot at sunset you are constantly losing light. While a good photographer can change their exposure as the light changes, there’s nothing they can do about the light fading away. This results in “grainier” pictures. If the photographer has a good camera body as I do, grain isn’t too much of an issue since the camera sensors can process the data well.
The second drawback to shooting at golden hour is being at the whim of the sun’s schedule. This can be hard for young families who have early bedtimes. This is why the fall season is so popular for family pictures. During the fall, the golden hour is earlier and the colors look amazing!
As a photographer, I pay attention to light all day long. As the sun rises or sets, the sky becomes a beautiful palette of oranges, reds, and purples. The light is soft, and it creates the perfect backdrop for capturing family portraits. I cannot help but observe how light plays on objects or how it is framing my daughter’s hair. I’m totally fascinated by how it can leak, bend, and twinkle. If you are looking for a photographer that likes to shoot at the golden hour, consider sending me a message. Together we can come up with a well-thought plan for heirloom photographs to treasure for a lifetime. If you're looking for a family photographer located in Mundelein and Lake County, send me a message. We can plan something beautiful!