The Golden Hour - Perfect Times for Portraits

The Golden Hour – Perfect Times for Portraits


Golden-HourToday portrait photographer Christina N Dickson looks at ‘the Gold Hour’ and why it is a great time to do portrait work. Christina’s work can be found at

You are an admittedly talented people photographer. You like taking candid. You like taking portraits. After a few months of practice, you’ve progressed. But it seems that there is still something missing from your portraits.

If this is you, there may be one thing holding you back from getting to that next level in your portraiture.


Have you ever been through a major department store? The ones with the expensive makeup counters and free makeovers? Take a cue from these make up specialists. Often times, placed next to the “directors chair” will be an umbrella lit with a strobe light.

Why? Because light can alter the appearance of a person’s face, depending on where the light and shadows fall. The makeup companies know this. And it’s a fact that when practiced, can provide that one extra push for additional purchases.

When do you take your portraits? Taking consideration of the time of day will greatly affect the turnout of your portraits.


This is about an hour and a half directly after sunrise. While portraits at this time may be difficult to rouse you or your subject out of bed, you won’t regret your photos. Band portraits would be ideal at this time because the light will highlight the texture and shape of instruments. Children’s portraits also are great in the morning because you can spend more attention on interacting and capturing them, than on the light. You can guarantee some beautiful lighting that will guarantee big purchases.



This is the hour and a half around sunset (about 45 minutes before and after). The light at this time can be fairly bright but gorgeously directional. And it seems to be a bit easier persuading clients to meet you in the early evening. Engagement and wedding photos are gorgeous at this time, facilitating perfect rim light on a bride’s veil, or rim light on the wedding party. It also is the perfect time of day to capture some romantic lens flair. Once again, it’ll be another large purchase guarantee.

If you’ve never shot in the morning or evening golden hour, get some practice before scheduling a client at that time. Practice will enable you to understand how best to use the bright highlights, and directional shadows to your advantage. Soon, you’ll be on your way to that next level in your portraits!

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Christina N Dickson is a visionary artist and philanthropist in Portland Oregon. Her work includes wedding photography and leadership with

Some Older Comments

  • Rick January 8, 2013 01:31 pm

    I forgot to add this example of magic hour light and Photomatix [img ][/img]

  • Rick January 8, 2013 01:24 pm

    You can get some pretty amazing treatments with's great for altering images and the brightening function works well too. Try it, the trial is free.

  • mariam July 30, 2012 11:24 am

    Hello. I love that picture with the guy holding the guitar and the sun right in the middle. How do you capture this photo??

  • Ali Bagherzadeh February 14, 2009 11:23 pm

    Thanks for sharing
    could you give more sample pic?
    Best regards

  • Photographer Alex October 20, 2008 08:16 pm

    when I was working with my last magazine, I always tried to shoot in the golden hour with a hint of fill-in flash with the sun behind the subject. Your get some awesome shots this way.

  • Tiffany October 17, 2008 09:30 am

    I actually planned my outdoor wedding to take place at the golden hour so I would have some great pictures!

  • Rick Hanzlik October 17, 2008 12:18 am

    Lighting and finding the right golden hour has always been a favorite study of mine. Living in the mountains, we get some fabulous evening lighting effects at the golden hour. Thanks for the reminder.

  • George October 16, 2008 11:21 pm


    Thanks for the comments :) ... as for those particular pictures, it's just an action called "tea stain"... it desaturates the picture and adds a bit of an orange-ish hue to it. I like to add a bit of film grain thereafter.

  • The Floating frog October 16, 2008 05:33 pm

    Is the gold hour applicable at any time of the year? Is there a time of year when it's better?

  • NoelSibs October 16, 2008 02:57 pm

    I totally agree that the golden hour is the best time to take pictures. In your article you mentioned "romantic lens flare". Do you have any tips on achieving lens flare and the best ways of utilizing it? I'd love to try it out and add to the little technique I know.

    Thanks! Looking forward to any tips you may have...

  • Gio October 16, 2008 10:18 am


    your composition is not bad at all! the picture in the set really benefit from the golden hour!

    it might seem a dull question, but i'll fire it anyway: what kind of effect did you use to alter the colour of some pictures such as num 22 and 37?


  • stephen October 16, 2008 06:54 am

    The golden hour is also great for landscape photography!

  • George October 16, 2008 04:31 am

    Funny, I just did an engagement shoot and my main goal was to ensure it happened during the golden hour. For the most part I feel it was the light that really helped my lack of experience in composition, etc.

    See for yourself:

    It truly does redefine how pictures are made.

  • Seim Effects October 16, 2008 03:10 am

    Morning an evening are wonderful for portraits. I tend to like evening best. I'm not much for getting up, and neither are seniors.

    It does differ a little in some areas though. Then there's heavy tree cover the light tends to fade away faster. Earlier sunlight can waft shafts of lights thru the tree's that may well diminish towards sunset.

    Sunset shooting seems normal for those that have been doing it for a long time, but this is a good post because it's surprising how many people I meet who think direct sunlight is the best light for portraits :)


  • Ruth Ann October 16, 2008 01:02 am


    Thanks for sharing this. I've heard that those are good times for taking portaits and such...the lighting is beautiful! I especially like the evening time (maybe because I'm lazy?) but haven't figure out exactly *when* it is.

    Last week I took some portaits of my sister in the middle of a very overcast day. There wasn't *snap* to my pictures and the colors were kinda gloomy and overcast. I should have known...

    But, I'd wonder, if you have a lot of portraits to take, do you just have to work with the different times of day and do your best? Or do you only schedule in the morning & evening? (this doesn't seem practical) Right now I obviously wouldn't have a lot of people, but I was just wondering.

    Thanks for writing, I enjoyed the tips and pointers you had to share!

    ~ Ruth Ann (ya' know? the one from IPS PWP1 & PWP2 in Manitou Springs, Colorado...September 2008!!!)

  • Rosh October 16, 2008 12:29 am

    In my experience. Many amateurs build interest in the order of equipment, exposure, composition and light.

    It has also been said. Amateurs think about equipment, professionals think about paying the bills and masters think about light.

    Light should be first and we all have access to the best source of light - the sun (Unless you're in Alaska in the winter). This post about has some good tips. Thanks for sharing them.

    I prefer the crispness and color of the early morning light. I just don't like getting up.