You Don’t Need the Golden Hour to Make The Best Photos

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Cinestill 800T sample photos (29 of 31)

For many years, photographers and instructors have always said that you need to go shoot during the golden hour. Lots of photographers still do whether it be street photography, portraits, landscapes, etc. The Golden Hour does something that can give your images a natural sunkissed look to them that yes, I’ll admit is beautiful when done just right.

But in all truthfulness, no one NEEDS the Golden Hour. Modern cameras, lenses and image editing software these days have such good technology that a great photo can be taken at any time.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Zeiss 21mm f2.8 Canon EF mount review images street and landscape (26 of 29)ISO 1600

Good images and great images can honestly happen at any time of the day or night. The Golden Hour really only majorly matters when it comes to working with color–but with black and white it’s absolutely irrelevant. With white balance and gradients, it’s pretty simple to simulate the look of the golden hour.

But let’s delve further into this: the golden hour, in a way, is becoming more of an overdone look more than anything. Everyone and their mother does it–but few do it well enough to really create scenes that stand out heavily from the rest. Doing that is tough: it requires the right mixture of creative freedom, ideas, technical know-how and possible communication between you and a subject. It provides nice, soft light for you but that light is also possible in bright sunlight and during cloudy days–just use a flash or make use of natural awnings and the shadows they provide!

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sony A99 Aquarium photos and landscapes edited (8 of 15)ISO 100

Though most enthusiasts may not totally understand it and may be confused by it, the experienced shooters know this from the start. What makes for a great image isn’t the Golden hour: it’s your content in the frame and how you’ve gone about making it into something that is pleasing to the eye and that the eye wants to stare at.

The Golden Hour is also (believe it or not) really tough to work with. You’ve got light, lots of it, but no real way of controlling it sans lens shades, filters, reflectors, etc. It’s like taming a beast into doing exactly what you need it to do and to make your subject (be it people or landscapes) look great. There are fantastic images shot during the golden hour, but quite frankly there are also absolutely abysmal images shot during this time.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Profoto B1 First Impressions sample photos (6 of 10)ISO 1001-160 sec at f - 5.6

With the prevalence of cameras and great editing software these days, it seems as if anyone can go out there and really create excellent photos during the Golden Hour. And yes, it’s absolutely 100,000% true. They totally CAN create jaw-dropping images, but it doesn’t mean that anyone actually will. Experienced photographers know that creating images that truly captivate people into staring for a while is tough to do. Sometimes you’ll be able to do it, and sometimes you won’t. What will always help though is ideas and having a vision of what you want in the final photo. Then, it’s your responsibility to actually create that vision on pixels or film.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer How to Get the Look of a Sunset in Lightroom (1 of 1)ISO 8001-800 sec at f - 2.8

With everything: it’s about what you do with the image and less about when to shoot.

But let’s take this a bit further. How can you actually mimic the look of the golden hour. Well, there are many ways:

  • Gradients
  • Precise white balancing and mixing of tints along with color channel adjustment
  • Here’s one tutorial.
  • A soft gold reflector bouncing light onto a subject.
  • A gelled flash put in just the right place. Usually it’ll need to be higher up and in a believable spot. The guys from SLR Lounge did it.

Again though, no one should take this as an idea to not shoot during the Golden Hour. Do it, go for it. But don’t use it as a crutch in the same way that black and white photographers convert images to black and white just to make them look better. Why? You’ll pigeon hole yourself for one, and if you actually want to make money off of your images, knowledge of being able to work in different lighting scenarios is always a plus. But if you’re a person shooting purely for themselves and couldn’t care any bit less about what anyone says, well, keep doing it until you get bored I guess.

Chris Gampat

Chris Gampat is the Editor in Chief, Founder, and Publisher of the Phoblographer. He also likes pizza.