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Why "Golden Hour" Isn't Always Golden

What is Golden Hour?

The "Golden Hour" is the hour directly before sunset (the "Blue Hour" being the hour just before sunrise) and it is one of photographers' favorite tools. Like many photographers, especially those just starting out, I became virtually obsessed with this magical hour, which, just as the name suggests, can make your subjects beam with a golden hue, setting the stage for dreamy and warm photographs. In fact, I was so enamored with this method that I scheduled all of my shoots at this time and would not shoot during the day.

Golden hour photos I have taken:

After realizing that shooting during such a specific time also limited me to only models and subjects who were available to shoot then, I cautiously ventured into the world of day (and night) shooting. Not only did this allow me to have more options to shoot models, it forced me to develop a new skill set and gave me freedom to shoot in any condition, including cloudy weather and other harsh conditions (even the dreaded high noon shoot--more on that topic below).

Taken around 3PM:

Taken in overcast weather:

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Taken at night with no external flash:

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Shooting at High Noon

If shooting during the Golden Hour is a photographer's dream, shooting at high noon is our nightmare. Many people think - and will suggest - that shooting at high noon is one of the best times to shoot. Photographers love light, and what better time to shoot than when the sun is at its highest point during the day, right? Not quite. Shooting at high noon means you have no diffused light and therefore the light is direct and harsh; something most people don't want, especially those who do not want to bring extra attention to pores, wrinkles, uneven skintone/texture, etc. Now, for some, including those with beautiful deep and rich skin tones, there is no noticeable difference shooting at this time, but for the most part, it is the least flattering time of day. To be successful shooting at high noon takes a lot of practice, along with employing some additional equipment, tricks, and/or skill (sometimes all of the above).

But sometimes shooting at high noon is preferred over shooting at a softer time of day, such as fashion spreads where the romantic look of Golden Hour generally detracts from the shoot and doesn't give the same edge. Still, if you are not going for that edgy look, you can often shoot at high noon (or any time where you have direct light) and get a soft look by taking advantage of shade, posing techniques, reflectors and other aides (I won't go much into equipment here as I generally do not use much during natural light shoots), and editing, which I discuss below. 

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While the picture directly above looks like it could have been taken during the Golden Hour, it was actually taken around high noon. This is because the model was positioned in a way so as to diffuse the direct light both in terms of posing and positioning next to a structure that blocked the sun. In addition, the editing here played a role in getting the image to look softer, which I will discuss more below.

Editing Is Key

No matter at what time of day you choose to shoot, editing is key. Learning to master editing (a work in process for me), means that you can salvage almost any photograph, even if is underexposed, full of shadows, or otherwise not ideal for the look you are going for. There are many tutorials on YouTube for this (and courses you can take), and learning just a few tricks using Lightroom, Photoshop or even some free editing software out there such as Gimp, can really change the way you shoot and take your photography to the next level. In fact, in my opinion, editing is what makes a photo go from "okay" to "great", regardless of what camera you have or even if you shot in unfavorable conditions.

So while "Golden Hour" is truly a gem, it can hold you back if you don't allow yourself to break out of your comfort zone and shoot at various times of the day and in a variety of conditions, which can only make you a better photographer - and more versatile - photographer in the end. 

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Models pictured in order of appearance: @coolmiss_nadja (makeup by self), @henika.solovjev (makeup by self), @13xnina (makeup by @katarina.petrovic.mua), @iron_lady93 (makeup by @katarina.petrovic.mua), @iivvaaannaa (makeup by @marija.necak), @nadjagrubjesic (makeup by @marija.necak), @kobricadobrica (makeup by self), @k.dora (makeup by self)

Brenda Nasr