Shooting In Golden Hour – DSLR Cinematography Tips

10756 2

Golden hour, it’s a beautiful, majestic time of day. Although, what exactly is golden hour?  You can find out by watching the video, or if you prefer the black on white text, the written information is below.

When the sun is high in the sky from midday to late afternoon, there is very little interference from our atmosphere; the light is bright and the shadows are harsh. However, just after sunset or just before sunrise, the sun is just about level to the horizon, and the light has to travel through many miles of dense atmosphere before illuminating what we can see, which decreases the intensity of direct sunlight. The blue light emitting from the sun is caught up in the atmosphere leaving more red, yellow and orange to pass through, which gives the sun a nice warm golden glow. Very simply, golden hour is a short period just after sunrise and just before sunset.


The colour of the sun sits at a colour temp of around 3500k, which is the type of colour temperature you would get from a tungsten light. However, unlike being inside lit by a tungsten light, outside you are welcomed with the luscious warm soft glow of the setting sun. Because the sun is so parallel with the horizon, our shadows are transformed into longer dynamic shadows that can add a lot of visual interest to your composition. The soft light is great for filming and photographing subjects because it’s friendly to dynamic range, so you’re not going to be losing details in the shadows or trying to bring down the overblown highlights.


The hour in magic hour and golden hour is a figurative term. It doesn’t necessarily mean that from 8pm to 9pm golden hour is active, and of course it depends on where you are located in the world. Those near the equator are going to have a bit of trouble as golden hour can last only a few minutes, yet near the two poles golden hour can last for a few hours at a time.

Now we know what golden hour is, let’s have a look at what tips you need to have in your pocket to capture good footage.

  1. The most important tip; do not set your white balance as automatic. The camera will read your subject and see that there is too much red in the image and try to counter it by inserting more blue. By doing this it will neutralise the skin colour, which is good for most circumstances, but at golden hour it will also remove the golden colour cast.
  2. Plan Ahead. If you’re shooting a dialogue scene, there’s a chance the actor could deliver the wrong line and you need to do another take, or perhaps you might lose focus. Whatever it may be, the mistakes you can make are minimal as you’ll be running against the clock. So have your equipment set up before you arrive on location, or if your location is in the middle of nowhere, arrive an hour or two before golden hour to set up early.
  3. Use A Reflector. Golden hour is a preferred moment of the day by many photographers because the sun provides such a soft incandescent light. Models can face the sun and they will be illuminated with an all-around smooth coverage. I personally like to use the golden sun as a backlight. However, you’re going to lose your subject if you completely expose for the sun and the sky, so bring a reflector with someone to hold it to you can bounce the sun back up to the subject.
  4. Use the flaring to your advantage. When the sun is at its peak height, you have no chance of successfully flaring the lens without blowing out every highlight, mid tone and shadow in the composition. Because the light is diffused at golden hour you can get a lot more flaring and retain the exposure of the majority of highlights and midtones.
  5. Shoot with a wide angle lens. The sun will paint the landscape in colours that are non-viewable for the 22 other hours of the day. Don’t confine yourself to tight framing and shallow depth of field when there’s so much compositional beauty to capture.


Golden hour can really make a dull looking area look beautiful, but as mentioned preparation is key. Keep an eye on the weather, and make sure the sky isn’t too cloudy as you may not receive any light at all. For more DSLR tutorials, make sure to check out UglyMcGregor on YouTube.

About The Author

Lewis McGregor is an aspiring filmmaker, photographer and online content creator from Wales.