4 Reasons Why Golden Hour Isn’t The Best Light

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Golden Hour, also known as the magic hour, is the hour when the sunrising or setting and is famous for giving off a soft light with a golden glow. The internet encourages you to avoid shooting at any other time of day, photography apps help predict the golden hour, and other photographers chase that golden hour aesthetic like there’s a pot of gold at the end.

I’m not other photographers and I hate the golden hour. There, I said it! This is probably the most controversial opinion I hold as a photographer, but hear me out! When I was new to photography, the pressure to be in the right place at the right time took the joy out of photography. Opening yourself up to other types of light ignites new creativity and individuality, so here are my top four reasons photographers should shoot all day long.

Golden Hour is Restrictive

Golden hour photography requires that you plan ahead and it limits you to an hour a day at dawn and dusk. Don’t get me wrong, I love a photo with good sunset lighting, but in travel and landscape photography you don’t always have the luxury of shooting at sunset time. Not all tourist attractions operate during golden hour, hiking in the dark could be dangerous, or you don’t have time to wait for perfect lighting at every place you want to see while traveling. 

There Are Other Types Of Natural Light

There are several types of natural light that vary in intensity and color temperature, but all have their advantages. The best time to take pictures is all day long.

  • Blue Hour, also known as first light and last light, is the time of day just before the sun rises or just after the sun sets and gives off an intense blue hue.

  • Astronomical Twilight is the time of night when bustling city lights come to life, and soon after the stars will glow in remote locations away from town.

  • Direct Light happens throughout the day when the sun is most intense and casts harsh shadows. Use the direction of the sun to back-light the subject to create silhouettes or use spot metering to isolate and expose the subject. Position the subject so the light is hitting the subject in the front, which reduces harsh shadows in the camera’s view.

  • Diffused Light is a softer light that loses its intensity as it travels through clouds or reflects off surfaces.

Shooting Only During golden Hour Doesn't Challenge You To Improve

Shooting in various lighting conditions challenges you to think more critically about how to place your subject to leverage the light you have. Experimenting with compositions and light outside your comfort zone helps you grow as a photographer; choosing to only shoot in one style of light hinders that growth. You can shoot in a style of photography best suited for the current lighting conditions, or you can adjust your composition to avoid unfavorable light.

Rather than seeking the ideal conditions within your comfort zone; rise to the opportunity of meeting the demands of the environment. Unless you work in a studio, the environment will never be perfect; learn to work with the lighting you have and create beautiful images despite imperfections. 

Sun Rays Shining at Soco Falls

Composition In Hard Light

  • Move around and try different angles to avoid undesired lighting

  • Cut out the overexposed or underexposed parts of the photo with a tighter shot.

  • Use the shadows creatively with composition techniques like leading lines or frame within a frame.

  • Use the shadows creatively with composition techniques like leading lines or frame within a frame.

  • Embrace the light by looking for sun rays, or ways to highlight the subject using light.

Some Types of Photography Need Harsh Light

The soft light of the golden hour is a subtle transition from light to dark. By contrast, the transition from light to dark in hard light is abrupt and definitive. Shooting in full sun has a poor reputation because harsh light creates shadows. While many photographers have demonized shadows, some types of photography appreciate the stark contrast between light and dark. If used correctly, high contrast light adds drama and dimension to a photo.

Examples of Photography That Embrace Hard Light

calm creek reflects large, white, boulders on the shore.

Reflective Surfaces

Reflections are the light bouncing off a surface, without light there is nothing to reflect.

Shadows Example


Shadows can strengthen the focal point and add balance and contrast to an image.

Brandenburg Gate in Germany - Silhouette Example 


Silhouette photography exposes for the background, leaving only the outline of the subject visible.

New Growth On An Old Tree

Black & White

Black and white photography relies on the high contrast of lights and darks to create various tones of black, white, and gray.

I don’t bring up these points to say we should never shoot during the golden hour; that golden glow is quite enjoyable. It’s really the hype and dependency on the golden hour that I hate; there are 22 other hours in a day, why are we limiting ourselves to only 2? Shoot what you want, how you want, when you want, and learn to embrace what the scene gives you. 

Author Bio

Author Bio Image

Delaney is a Business Analyst by day and a travel and wildlife photographer by night who is using her skills for translating complex technical language into easy to understand concepts to make photography achievable at all skill levels. You have questions; she has answers.

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