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Tips on how you can capture extraordinary photos during the 'golden hour'

By Chaffin Mitchell, AccuWeather staff writer

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Lighting can make the difference between an average image and a breathtaking and eye-catching photo.

In photography, the "golden hour" refers to a period shortly after sunrise or before sunset when daylight is soft and creates a warm glow.

Shooting during this time, also referred to as the magic hour, can have an amazing effect on your photographs.

"During sunrise and sunset, the sun’s rays have to travel a longer distance through the atmosphere before reaching our eyes. This increased distance causes more of the blue portion of the sun’s rays to scatter away from our eyes, and more of the yellow, orange and red portion of the sun’s rays to reach our eyes," AccuWeather Meteorologist Bob Smerbeck said.

Bird Dance

A bird dances at sunrise. (tahir abbas/iStockphoto/Getty Images)

Not only does the yellow hue look incredible in photos, the light is also coming in at a good angle.

"Golden hour is great for shooting because of the direction the light comes in. The colors it produces are much more flattering than any other times of the day. It allows me to be able to backlight a subject and prevent shadows from covering the face," photographer Kevin Michaels said.

Portraits and landscapes benefit the most from this special light. However, shoot into the sun for a full or partial silhouette.


A silhouette captured during the golden hour. (Image via Instagram/kevinmichaelspix)

"Photographers are able to do so much more during this time, such as capturing a silhouette. This lets the photographers give clients a variety to choose from," Michaels said.

The best way to make sure you don't miss the small window of amazing lighting is to schedule your plans around the golden hour. Arrive at your shooting location beforehand to set up.

"Normally, I go out an hour and half before sunset so I can get a great variety of shots," Michaels said.

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When capturing portraits, warm golden light is more flattering for skin tones than harsh light. Harsh sunlight causes sharp shadows on faces and makes the model squint.

Unlike at other times of the day, golden hour is the perfect time to have your subject almost directly facing the sun.

Loving couple

Portrait of a couple using the golden hues of light. (AleksandarNakic/Vetta/Getty Images)

Golden light also makes for great landscape pictures. The sky has more color during this time, especially if clouds are picking up the sun’s rays.

Couple kissing during a romantic sunset

Light casts a dream-like feel onto this romantic photo. (Creative-Family/iStockphoto/Getty Images)

This lighting also gives the capability of extra effects like a nice flare or rim light.

The duration of the golden hour depends on both the latitude and season, and it changes daily. There are golden hour calculators that helps determine the time of day that will be perfect for pictures.

Man kissing on smiling girlfriend at sunny day

A gold flare helps to set this photo apart from an average one. (Nomad/Getty Images)

Remember, the golden hour is not during sunset or sunrise, but shortly before and after.

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