What time should you start shooting? | Determining Golden Hour

Golden Hour1 copy2__Breanna McKendrick Photography_Utah Wedding Photographer
The main ingredient to any beautiful photograph is beautiful LIGHT!  I feel like I should climb up on my little photographer’s soap box and begin a sermon here.

Ahem. Lets begin. Lighting is master. You might think what makes you a wonderful photographer is knowing how to pose or having that great Thinktank bag full of top of the line gear. Gear and posing is an important part of the equation, but light is master. Say that to your self a few times.

Even if you are shooting with a Canon 1DX, (which is a $6,800 camera) and don’t have a clue about qualities of light, you might as well put that camera down and use it as an expensive paper weight.

I prefer shooting in natural light and so the sun can dictate where we shoot and when we shoot. When I show up to a wedding, it is the first thing I do is start looking for good light to shoot in. When I plan engagement sessions with my brides and grooms, it all revolves around the how much available light there is, what direction it is coming from etc.

As the sun moves across the sky, the quality of light changes dramatically. When photographers think about a “High noon” sun, it can send shivers down a spine. Why? Because this means the sun is directly over their subjects heads casting dark shadows under their chin, under their nose and their bright eyes become darken sockets. This time of day has the most contrast and it is always a battle of balancing out the harsh brights on skin with the dark shadows. Does this sounds like a romantic time to shoot portraits of a bride? No way. Maybe a fun edgy fashion session. But it isn’t what I think of when I imagine portraits of couples in love. I would suggest Golden Hour for romantic bride and groom portraits!

Golden Hour is the last 1.5-2 hours after the sun rises or  before the sunsets.  Most of my couples don’t want to get up at 6:30 for a sunrise session (although it has happened before), and so that means I am constantly shooting in evening.

During Golden Hour, the sun sits low on the horizons. The light is coming from the side filling the sky with a warm, rich orange and yellow tones. Instead of a strong contrast of the high noon, the lower Golden Hour light is soft and wraps around your subjects with an even exposure. This means no more under-the-chin-shadows. It is romantic, it is full of glow, it is beautiful.

These pictures were taken at Arches National Park in Moab, Utah with during a session with Camilla Binks. We got to Moab early when the sun was still harsh and bright in the early afternoon. It was VERY directional (coming from the side), unlike High noon light which is straight overhead. High noon would have casted shadows under her eyes and nose more that in this image.

It is still a beautiful image, but notice the contrast. To expose properly for the girls face, the background shadows are extra dark and her dark hair blends in with the background. If this edgy/fashion look is what you want, we can rock this! But most of the images from this portion of the day had the girls eye’s closed or turned away from us. It is extremely difficult to have your subjects look into the sun without looking squinty or eyes watering. That reason alone is good enough reason to only shoot family sessions in the golden hours. Young kids squinting in the sun = unhappy moms.

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At the end of our time in Moab, we were well within Golden Hour. We were in the same exact location. We flipped around to put the sun behind us to give the girl some beautiful ‘hair light’. You can notice how even the lighting is on her face. In this light, it is much easier for the subjects to look straight at the camera. And call it a personal preference, but the beautiful glow of “golden hour” is a perfect set up for romantic engagements or wedding day portraits.

Sun-4__Breanna McKendrick Photography_Utah Wedding Photographer

Golden Hour is constantly changing as the months pass and sunset times change. In the winter time, the sun can set as early as 5:00pm! That means sessions are starting around 3:00 or 4:00pm. However, in the summer, the sun sets late. My sessions usually start at 7:00pm during these long days.

To figure out the perfect time to start shooting you will need to be aware of the sunrise and sunset times. If you are a photographer, you NEED the Rise app.

“Rise” is by far one of my FAVORITE apps I have on my iPhone. I use it for every session. It is accurate, it is reliable, and I don’t need cell service for it to work! So if you are on a cruise in the middle of the ocean, up a mountain canyon, or just in a dead zone, you can still figure out the best shooting times!

AppStore__Breanna McKendrick Photography_Utah Wedding Photographer

This app is beautifully made. And I love a well designed and pretty app. Now full disclaimer, my Husband is an iOS developer and helped design and launch this app. I do like to showcase Trevor’s work with the app because I am proud of how great he is, but he no longer works on it. His co-developer and friend Josh owns it and manages all of the support. (Which is great!) So I am not paid or under any obligation to rave about Rise.

Rise is simple. It shows you the sunrise times, swipe up and it will show you the sunset times for that day. I can swipe left to see a calendar to plan my shoots that are happening several months in advance.

Rise__Breanna McKendrick Photography_Utah Wedding Photographer
Rise__Breanna McKendrick Photography_Utah Wedding Photographer
Sunrise and Sunset times not only change with the time of year, but also your location on the globe. Swipe right and you can enter in your location if you are curious about some where other than your current location. So, if I am shooting a wedding in San Diego (which I will be in December) and want to  make sure we are at the beach to shoot during sunset, no problem! I can look up the time to start shooting in San Diego right now.

Menu__Breanna McKendrick Photography_Utah Wedding Photographer
When you are looking at a sunrise and sunset time other than the current day, a week calendar will appear at the bottom with that week’s sunrise or sunset trends.
RiseCalend__Breanna McKendrick Photography_Utah Wedding Photographer
The app is totally free. So there is really NO reason to not have this! You can pay for an upgrade that will display your weather forecasts. A photographer needs to be aware of when the rain storms are coming in case a shoot needs to be moved indoors or rescheduled.

WeatherRise__Breanna McKendrick Photography_Utah Wedding Photographer
This app is currently only made for iOS, but all you android users out there, search for Sunrise and Sunset Calendars and I am sure you will find something. Although, I am pretty sure it wont be as pretty as this one. 🙂

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