Just like all art forms, photography is a skill that you develop over time: The more you practice it, the better you’ll get. While there are plenty of photography techniques and skills to master, learning how to use lighting should be at the top of your list. Once you understand lighting, you can then manipulate it to take better photos in any environment.
When it comes to the different types of photography lighting techniques, it doesn’t get much better than natural light photography. Beginners and seasoned pros alike can seriously improve their every day and landscape photography by learning how to use natural light properly, particularly by shooting during the golden and blue hours.
To explain blue and golden hour photography, we’ve teamed up with the experts at Ted’s Cameras. From the best golden hour photography settings to which gear to use, discover their top tips now!
What are the blue and golden hours in photography?
As any photographer knows, lighting can make or break a photo. This is true of all types of lighting, from artificial light sources to natural light. If you’re particularly interested in natural light photography, the blue and golden hours are without a doubt the best times of day to shoot. During these times the light has a soft, almost painterly quality, and there are fewer dark shadows to deal with.
The best time to take golden hour photos is during the first hour after sunrise and the last hour before sunset, while the “blue hour” is the hour before sunrise and after sunset.
It’s important to note that while photographers call these periods “hours,” they might actually be longer or shorter than an hour depending on the weather, season, and your location. Since the light can be unpredictable, the key to shooting in the blue and golden hours is speed. You may not have an entire hour of glorious light, so you want to move quickly!
Why photographers love the golden hour
During the golden hour, the light is soft and warm. The low angle of the sun helps diffuse light, makes colours pop, and builds depth and texture. In other words, this time of day can make any subject look its absolute best.
There’s also less contrast during golden hour, which means you can capture the smaller details in your scene without having to sacrifice highlights or shadows. The result? Golden hour photos that look exactly like the scene in front of you.
In comparison, if you shoot in the middle of the day, the bright highlights or deep, dark shadows may ruin your photos, and will make the photo editing process harder than it needs to be. As a photographer, working with high contrast can be frustrating, which is why it’s easier to shoot during the golden hour instead.
How to shoot stunning landscapes during the blue hour
Once the sun has dipped below the horizon, it takes a while for the sky to go completely dark. During the transition period from twilight to nightfall, the sky takes on a deep blue colour with a hint of red, orange, or even pink closer to the horizon line.
If you’re an early bird, you’ll see the same thing the hour before sunrise, when the world is still waking up. The sun hasn’t risen fully, and a rainbow of crisp colours often streak the sky, presenting the perfect opportunity for stunning blue hour landscape photos.
Many photographers use the blue hour to capture cityscapes, streets, and other areas that are lit up by artificial lights. The combination of well-lit scenes and moody skies makes for very ethereal blue hour photos that are popular on social media.
The blue hour is also a great time to shoot in black and white, and to photograph water. When the sun sets, the reflection of the light on the water illuminates it in a unique way.
The best camera gear for blue & golden hour photography
If you’re interested in blue or golden hour photography, the good news is that the light does a lot of the work for you! For best results, however, you may want to have the following gear handy:
- A mirrorless or DSLR camera. These models have manual functions, which will make it easier to tweak your camera’s settings to get the perfect shot.
- A tripod. While you can shoot handheld, it’s a good idea to set your camera on a tripod. A basic travel tripod will hold your camera steady so you can capture sharp photos at slow shutter speeds.
- A remote control. This isn’t a must-have, but it’s helpful to use a remote control so you don’t need to touch your camera (and risk camera shake) to take a photo.
The best blue & golden hour photography camera settings
Since the sun is less powerful during both the blue and golden hours, you’ll need to adjust your camera settings accordingly to let more light in.
To nail your exposure, play around with these blue and golden hour photography settings:
- Raise the ISO. Don’t be afraid to crank up the ISO, especially during the blue hour. Just beware that this can make your images appear noisy, so raise the ISO a little bit at a time until you get your desired effect — 100 is a good starting point.
- Choose a longer shutter speed. Try a shutter speed of 1/60 if you’re shooting handheld, or 1/100 if you’re using a tripod. With slow shutter speeds, even the smallest movements can cause camera shake, and a tripod is the best way to prevent blurriness.
- Adjust your white balance. For golden hour photos, switch your white balance to “Cloudy” mode to bring out the warm, rich colours of the landscape. Also be sure to select “Shade” to keep the colours cool and crisp.
How to make the most of the blue and golden hours
The blue and golden hours are nature’s gift to photographers, but you’ll only have a short window before the light changes. To make your shoot as productive as possible, follow these tips:
- Get out early. The earlier you can set up, the better. That way, you’ll be ready to start shooting when the light is at its best. If you’re unfamiliar with the area, download the Suncalc app to find out which direction the sun rises and sets in.
- Scope out your location in the leadup to the shoot. You don’t want to waste your limited time trying to find the best landscape to photograph. If you can, choose a starting point such as a famous landmark or cityscape. You can then use Google Maps’ street view to plot your shooting spots around that point.
- Shoot in RAW. When you shoot in RAW, your images retain all their original data, which means you can play around with editing options without worrying about compromising the quality of the photo.
- Spend time in post-production. Don’t be afraid to tweak your images after your shoot. Experiment with contrast, exposure adjustments, and even shifts in white balance for a more dramatic effect.
Learn more photography tips and tricks
Landscape photographers are obsessed with the blue and golden hours – and with good reason! The light is at its absolute best during these times, which makes for stunning atmospheric photos, in addition to far less work in the post-production editing stage. In short, it’s a win-win!
Head outdoors today to start taking beautiful golden hour and blue hour landscape photos, or check out the Ted’s Cameras blog for more insider tips.
Written by Ted’s Cameras