If you’ve been a wedding photographer for any length of time, you’ve probably heard the concept of “golden hour portraits.” Golden hour refers to the time leading up to sunset when the light is low, golden, and d-r-e-a-m-y. However, shooting when the sun is low on the horizon can be tricky! If you’ve ever had trouble nailing your lighting for golden hour portraits, keep on reading!
1. Position the sun behind your clients.
To achieve the dreamy golden hour look, you first want to position the sun behind your clients! Keep in mind that it doesn’t have to be *directly* behind them (see point #2), but avoid allowing bright orange hot spots to hit their faces or clothing. Look for orange “glow” of sunlight on the back of their heads- you’ll know you’re in a good spot!
2. Avoid letting the sun hit your lens directly.
This is the most common mistake for photographers trying to nail lighting for sunset portraits! If the rays from the sun directly hit your lens, your image will be “hazy.” You may also notice “lens flare,” usually appearing in the form of greenish or purple rings in your image.
To avoid letting the sun hit your lens directly, change your angle to hide the sun either behind your clients or to the side, just slightly out of frame. You can also use a lens hood to help block sunlight from directly hitting your frame.
3. Set your exposure to properly expose the front of your clients.
In order to achieve proper coloring and skin tones in your sunset images, you will need to be shooting in manual mode. The bright light pouring into your lens (since you will be facing the sun) can confuse the automatic light meter on your camera, and the front of your clients will end up underexposed. To remedy this situation, shoot in manual mode and adjust your shutter speed/ISO until the front of your clients is properly exposed (not too bright, and not too dark).
4. Make sure there is enough light hitting the front of your clients.
Even if you have beautiful sunlight hitting the back of your clients, you must also pay attention to what is in front of them. You need lots of clean light hitting their faces to achieve creamy, beautiful skin tones, so avoid shooting golden hour portraits under dark trees or against a dark building.
5. Use the “dehaze” slider in Lightroom to help bring contrast back into a hazy sunset image.
If you accidentally allow too much sun into your frame, you may run into issues while editing. The colors will not appear true to life, and it will be difficult to add contrast. If you find yourself running into this problem, try the “dehaze” slider! It will add contrast and bring life back to the colors without affecting other aspects of the image.
Now that you’ve got the lighting down, do you need help posing your clients for these dreamy romantic portraits? Check out our Mini Guide: How to Photograph Flattering Bride & Groom Portraits!