The Golden Hour! A perfect time to take photos. The quality of light adds a special feel to portraits, landscapes, city scenes, and other subjects.
The best golden hour photography settings will allow a photographer to capture that special light at that special time.
Ok, let’s get stuck into the best settings for golden hour!
Best Golden Hour Photography Settings + Examples In 2023
Below are the settings that I use on my Canon EOS 70D when photography the golden hour. Just keep note that this is a rough guide and depends on the lighting and setting.
- Shutter speed: 1/100
- Aperture: f/8.0
- ISO: 100
- Focal length: Wide as practical, except for portraits
- Exposure mode: Manual, bracketed
- Focus mode: Manual, maybe with focus assist
- Image format: MFT, APS-C, Full-Frame
- White balance: Auto, but shoot in RAW
Below you can also see some stunning photographs that we’re taken in the golden hour and the camera settings for each one.
This is also a great way to better understand what type of settings different photographers use.
- Shutter speed: 1/400
- Aperture: f/4.0
- ISO: 160
- Focal length: 55mm
- Shutter speed: 1/160
- Aperture: f/2.8
- ISO: 400
- Focal length: 85mm
- Shutter speed: 1/120
- Aperture: f/3.0
- ISO: 100
- Focal length: 24mm
- Shutter speed: 1/160
- Aperture: f/8.0
- ISO: 100
- Focal length: 18mm
- Shutter speed: 1/2000
- Aperture: f/2.8
- ISO: 100
- Focal length: 50mm
Why I choose the above settings for golden hour photography
Obviously, the is no one size fits in regard to exposure settings. Especially with the rapidly changing light levels in the time period surrounding sunset and sunrise. The settings above are good talking points, though.
Shutter speed: 1/100 – I put this a little slow to emphasize that light levels will be low during a good part of the Golden Hour. The levels change quickly, so keep checking a light meter or some sort of chart.
Aperture: f/8.0 – Unless you are also attempting selective focus effects, have a decent amount of depth of focus. Since lower light levels may make correct focus a little iffy, having that depth of field for focus is likely to be needed.
ISO: 100 – Or whatever the lowest your camera can natively set. Some cameras will be limited to ISO 200 as the lowest native sensor sensitivity, other cameras may go down to ISO 50. Limiting noise and maximizing color rendition is the goal for this setting.
Focal length: Wide as practical, except for portraits – Golden Hour portraits shot with a short telephoto lens can be amazingly beautiful.
Most subjects we think about for Golden Hour or Blue Hour will probably be better suited for using a wide-angle or shorter normal lens. 24mm to 40mm or so in Full-Frame format.
Exposure mode: Manual, bracketed – Exposure meters will get you in the right ballpark, but the conditions of rapidly changing light levels and color temps can fool them.
So, use a meter to get you close, set the camera to manual, and bracket up and down. Film is cheap. Digital film is doubly so.
Focus mode: Manual, maybe with focus assist – Same reasoning as the metering. Zone focusing or using your lens’ hyperfocal distance (for the f-stop you’re using) is an appropriate technique for Golden Hour and Blur Hour.
Image format: MFT, APS-C, Full-Frame – Many serious photographers are already using DSLRs or mirrorless cameras in these formats anyways.
For most special-purpose photographic efforts, using a bigger format and better quality camera and lens will always be a good choice when engaging in serious photography.
White balance: Auto, but shoot in RAW – Auto white balance is one of the best golden hour photography settings to use. Shooting in RAW is what’s important here. RAW lets you assign color profiles in post-processing.
Plus, RAW gives you a wider range of luminescence and color temperature information than JPEG does. If your camera has 14-bit RAW as opposed to 12-bit, that’s a better choice, too.
Tips on how to capture stunning golden hour photography images
The Golden Hour and the Blue Hour can appear to be rather challenging to capture good images.
Yet, we see a lot of great photos taking advantage of this special lighting so we know it can be done.
It’s tempting to simply leave out the camera on full auto and then tweak what we want to in post-processing. Actually, there’s nothing wrong with that.
Todays digital cameras with some form of matrix metering are amazing in their ability to capture usable images in a wide variety of situations.
It’s no secret that many experienced photographers, including pros, make use of automation where appropriate.
Going beyond the basics requires us to be able to control the photographic process. Even when using automation, it helps to have a good understanding of what is happening inside our camera.
Then, whether shooting manual, automatic or somewhere in between, we are the artist, the craftsperson. We are in control.
Tip #1: Shoot RAW
In most special photographic situations and conditions, shooting RAW files is a prime factor in quality end results.
RAW image files hold so much more exposure and color information than a JPEG files. If your camera has 14-bit RAW, as opposed to 12-bit RAW, that will record even more detailed information.
Any decent image processing program will allow you to adjust well-exposed files in order to bring out the best image possible.
Post-processing is not cheating. It’s part of the photographic process. See all the books on the subject of the Zone System perfected by Ansel Adams to see how it was employed in film photography.
Additionally, the basic concepts cross over into digital photography.
Tip #2: Research the Location
This is easy to accomplish in the online world. Look up the place on Google Maps, and check out other images in Google Photos of the location.
Find out what the sunset and sunrise times are, and also notice how long the various twilight periods last. The website www.timeanddate.com is one of my well-used resources.
Scouting the location in person during daylight hours will enable you to identify good subjects and even possible safety hazards. Make good notes or record things on your smartphone.
Tip #3: Use Polarizer Filters
In this age of digital cameras and computer image manipulation programs, a lot of photographers have kind of forgotten about filters.
When I say filters, I’m talking about those pieces of glass that attach to the front of a lens, not to an Instagram preset!
A polarizer helps eliminate or reduce reflections and tends to improve or enhance color rendition as it does so.
You will lose close to two stops of light transition, so be sure to factor in the “filter factor” in your manual exposure calculations. A TTL meter is a bonus when using dark filters.
Other types of filters can also be fun to employ with Golden Hour and Blue Hour photography.
Neutral density (ND) filters attenuate the light allowing for longer exposure times. Those longer times can be used creatively in a lot of situations. Split ND filters are clear for half of the filter, creating more creative options.
You could also use color filters. I still have my array of various color filters that I carried around for Black and White photography and for color correction under different lights for color photography.
All of these can be used creatively for special effects in our digital photography. Combine color filters and post-processing tools and you can really make something wild looking. Have fun with it!
Tip #4: Use a Tripod!
Yes, you will most likely need to use a tripod for most of this golden and blue hour stuff. Exposure times tend to be on the long side.
Light levels are falling at sunset, or at least changing rapidly, and light levels start out low at sunrise. Bracketing or HDR requires a stationary camera for optimum results.
One of the things I have come to appreciate about tripod use is how I tend to slow down and become more involved in the photographic process.
I feel like an old master, doing something really artsy and meaningful. I even got a hat for that!
Tip #5: Pay Attention to Detail
Since you’ve slowed down to concentrate on the art, and you’re on a tripod anyways, take the time to look around the scene, in the viewfinder and just looking around, to find trash to remove or some other distraction to eliminate.
This also lets you pay attention to the composition of your scene. If something can be improved upon, noting the detail before taking the exposure is a lot easier than attempting correct it in post.
Tip #6: Clean Up
Clean that sensor. Nothing ruins hours of preparation and shooting more than junk on your sensor.
Also, clean your lenses and filters, too. Smudges can cause reflections, lower contrast, and cause light diffractions.
Gear cleanliness is a good habit to be in as a serious photographer. You can clean it yourself or find a nice local camera store that offers services on site. Most larger cities have at least one. Ask that camera club who they recommend.
Tip #7: Understand Photography
Without trying to sound pretentious, this is the single most important factor in bringing home outstanding images in any type of photographic situation.
It is especially true when dealing with challenging situations or types of photography.
There are a lot of ways to gain a good understanding of photography. Online courses are one way. Taking courses in person is good, too, but most online courses have two advantages.
One, they are often cheaper. Two, students usually get to progress at their own speed.
You probably don’t need to take a basic introductory course, you’re already a serious photographer. Shop for courses about lighting, color theory, and advanced photography.
Typing in a google search of those terms brought up multiple valid hits that I bookmarked for my own future reference.
Another way to gain understanding is through books. A good number of photographers I know have a bookshelf full of various photographic subjects.
Many titles are available digitally, too. One of my favorites is currently out of print, but available from several Amazon dealers as used books. “Understanding Photography” by Carl Shipman.
In addition to Amazon, a public library is a good resource.
Collaborating with other photographers can be very beneficial as well. Camera clubs are a way to meet other photographers locally. Online message boards and social media groups are also a good method for collaboration.
Discussions among people who really love and enjoy photography can be quite enlightening. Harsh critique and snobbery may be an indicator of that particular group not being where you want to be, so watch out for internet bullying.
Being mean is not cool. In these same groups and clubs, you may find yourself being the font of wisdom for that particular subject. Embrace that opportunity, you’re helping another photography enthusiast.
When exactly is the Golden Hour?
There are several answers that fit well. My definition is the time from shortly before sunset to shortly after sunset.
You can also use sunrise in that definition, the same time periods are simply reversed.
How long is short? Depending on where you are and what time of year, the short label could be about an hour to just about 25 or 20 minutes.
Therefore, the golden “hour” could be as short as 40 minutes or so or as long as close to a couple of hours.
Wrapping it up
Golden Hour photography is some of the most fun you can have with your camera. Take time, relax, and enjoy the process. From researching the location to printing out that perfect image, it’s all enjoyable.
Just before sunset or right after sunrise, the light has a very warm feel. Hence the “golden” part of that label. You can actually measure it quantitatively.
A color meter, like my old Minolta Color Meter II that I found at a yard sale, can give you a readout of the actual color temperature in degrees Kelvin.
The darker end of the Golden Hour is sometimes referred to as the Blue Hour. Since both qualities of light can add interest to subjects, I like to shoot all the way from Gold to Blue or vice versa.
Sometimes I think I’m wanting the warm light, and when I view the image files on my computer, I like the cooler color temp better. So, keep shooting during the entire period of special light.