4 Golden Hour Portrait Session Tips for Photographers

Photographing on the beach in Hawaii terrified me when I started my business here. So much sun! So many shadows! How was I supposed to angle clients? What was backlighting? If you’re new to shooting at golden hour (especially in a super bright environment), here are some Golden Hour Portrait Session Tips to get you started.

A quick tip: I use this website to check my area’s sunrise and sunset times: https://www.timeanddate.com/sun/usa/kailua-kona. It’s a great resource!

Tip 1: No Bright Sun In Faces

I don’t enjoy looking directly into the sun, and guess what? Neither do your clients. To avoid the bright sun in faces, have your clients face their shadows. Simply look for where their shadow is falling on the ground and have them face that direction. This ensures the sun is behind their faces and no one goes blind. Sun directly on the skin can also look harsh and unflattering.

Tip 2: Don’t put the sun directly behind your subjects

Now that the sun is behind your subjects, you want it slightly off to the side and not directly into your camera lens. Too much sun IN the camera results in haze and light flares. That’s nice for artistic shots, of course, but for nice clean portraits, I want even lighting and no one’s face to be hazy and washed out. Trust me; your clients want a good handful of shots done in clean, flattering lighting.

Tip 3: Filter the Light

My favorite Golden Hour Portrait Session Tip, which took me years to figure out, is to seek out filtered light if you can. An example of filtered light would be the sun coming through trees or tall grass. A natural element that sits between the sun, your subject, and you without blocking out all of the light entirely.

Golden Hour Portrait Session Tip 4: Trust your camera

Early in a golden hour session, ample light isn’t an issue. But as the sun drops and available light dims, don’t be afraid to push your ISO and trust your camera as it gets darker. I’ve worked with many photographers who sit with their ISO at 100 for an entire session and instead keep lowering their shutter speed, resulting in out-of-focus and blurry images. If you work with kids especially, you need a faster shutter speed because they are always moving. Trust me, a little grain from a high ISO is better than out-of-focus, blurry images.

These Golden Hour Portrait Session Tips should be a great start if you’re walking into your first golden hour photo session! Check out these images that were taken starting 45 minutes before sunset here on a (very) bright beach in Hawaii. And if you want to read more of my educational blog posts for photographers, you can see those here: https://wildesparrow.com/category/education/

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