A field of yellow wildflowers illuminated by the soft light of golden hour, creating a warm and dreamy atmosphere.

How to Have the Perfect Golden Hour Photoshoot

May 23, 2024

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When it comes to photos that feel magical and emotional, nothing can beat golden hour photos. These photos, where it feels like the world is lit up just for you, create moments that look like a dream come true. But how do you plan for a golden hour photoshoot? 

What actually goes into creating and capturing these incredible photos? As a portrait photographer, I have been a part of my fair share of golden hour photoshoots and know the ins and outs of what goes into these photos and what makes them so special. 

So, if you are planning your own golden hour photoshoot, here are some of my top tips and general information about golden hour photos. 

What is Golden Hour? 

First things first, let’s talk about what golden hour is. Some people mistake golden hour with sunset and while they are connected, they are actually two different times. Golden hour is the hour after sunrise (ie right after the sun comes up over the horizon) and the hour leading up to sunset (ie the hour before the sun actually sets below the horizon). 

Now, we also say golden “hour,” but it is not necessarily always an hour. Depending on the season or the weather or countless other factors, golden hour can be shorter than an hour. In general, you can expect it to be anywhere from about 45 minutes to an hour. 

Why is Golden Hour So Special? 

So, we know what golden hour is, but why is it special? Why are so many people eagerly drawn to capturing golden hour photos? 

When stripped down to basics, photography is about light, and golden hour offers a magical, warm and glowing light that can truly enhance a relationship, a creative portrait, and showcase the innocence and gift of wonder that children offer the world. 

Golden hour can transform a backdrop that feels ordinary into something extraordinary. Your average beach, mountain lookout, or even your backyard goes from just another location to a dreamlike space at golden hour. 

Light is what I, as a photographer, am always chasing and looking at when capturing subjects and scenes. When it comes to just that, golden hour offers a unique addition, a special enhancement that you can’t find anywhere else. Natural light is always going to be remarkable but nothing is more special than golden hour. 

Tips for the Perfect Golden Hour Photoshoot

Now that we know what golden hour is, let’s talk about how you can plan for the perfect golden hour photoshoot and capture the dreamy photos that you have always wanted! 

Check beforehand to make sure you know when golden hour is on your session day

One of the most important things you can do when it comes to your session is to make sure you know when golden hour is going to be on that specific day. The sunset is going to vary day by day and season by season. The evening golden hour in the winter, for example, may be at 4pm, but in the summer it may be at 7pm. 

You want to make sure you are checking the weather and understand when your window to take these photos is actually going to be on the day of your session. 

One of the things that makes golden hour so special is that it is fleeting. It is here for a short period of time and then it is gone. While starting 10 or 15 minutes late during a regular session may not seem like that big of a deal, starting that late during a golden hour photoshoot means that you may lose a quarter of the time you have. 

Decide what time of day you want to capture golden hour

Just as you want to know when golden hour is, you also want to think about which golden hour you want to capture your photos during. As mentioned earlier, golden hour happens the hour after sunrise and the hour before sunset. 

So, depending on the type of session you are doing, you may find that a morning hour is more suited for you or that an evening session is the better option. 

Morning sessions may end up being less crowded, especially if you are planning on going to a more popular area for your session. However, if you are planning a family photoshoot with small children, waking up and getting everyone ready before the sunrise may not be the best option. 

You can also think about where the sun is during that time and how that affects the light in the area. For example, if things like mountains or buildings are going to block the sunrise, you may not get the light that you are hoping for. But, you may find that at sunset, the light is in the perfect spot and creates that dreamy golden hour effect.

There really is no right or wrong answer to when to take these photos. It is going to depend on what you are looking for and what is going to work best for you personally. I will be able to help walk you through the differences, though, to help you make the best decision!  

Plan out where exactly you want to take the photos

Since golden hour is such a short amount of time, you want to make sure you know exactly where you want to take photos for your session. If you have an opportunity to, it is a good idea to take some time and scout out the area you are going to have your photoshoot in to find the perfect spot for your photos. I am happy to assist and collaborate on scouting with my clients.

This way, when it comes to the day of the session, we won’t have to waste precious time finding the perfect spot and can instead take advantage of the entire golden hour! 

Plan on arriving at your session early 

Arriving early is definitely a must when it comes to golden hour photoshoots. Getting to your session early will allow you to get settled and make sure you don’t feel rushed once golden hour actually begins. 

Plus, it will give you a chance to chat with me, your photographer, beforehand about any last minute details and make sure that everyone is on the same page so you can get the best photos possible. 

Ideally, you want to arrive anywhere from about 15 to 30 minutes before your session when it comes to golden hour photos. This will also help give you a buffer just in case you find that it starts a bit sooner than you had expected (after all, Mother Nature is unpredictable). 

Have a shot list of specific images or poses that you want to do

Finally, spend some time before your session thinking about any specific photos or poses you want to do during your session. Things like Pinterest can be great inspiration when it comes to poses, however, it is important to remember that they should just be used for inspiration. 

When it comes to your session, you don’t want to feel like you are trying to exactly copy something that doesn’t feel right for you. Instead, you can use those images as ideas for things that you can do and then find what feels right for you during the session. 

But, having some ideas beforehand will give you a solid starting point and foundation for how the session will flow and can help to make sure that you get all of the dreamy golden hour photos that you want! 

A serene sunset over the ocean, with the sun casting a golden reflection on the calm waves.

Final Thoughts on Golden Hour Photos

Hopefully, these tips will help you as you plan your own perfect golden hour photoshoot. This really is a special time to take photos and helps to create a more magical and emotional scene for almost any photo. 

Whether you are taking family photos, couples portraits, or even just creative headshots for yourself, golden hour is such an amazing time to take them. Now, all you need is a collaborative photographer to capture these magical moments. If you are still looking for that person, I’d love to chat. You can click here to get in touch!

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