Tips for Outdoor Photography: Golden Hour Magic!

By Sep 2, 20157 Comments

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There are a few fundamental photo tips you need in your arsenal, ranging from the rule of thirds, to how to straighten photos, to natural light photography. Today, we are turning our attention to outdoor photography and how to take advantage of the golden hour.

Learn how to capture beautiful pictures during the golden hour. | Golden Hour Photography Tips



“Golden hour (sometimes known as magic hour, especially in cinematography) is the first and last hour of sunlight during the day, when a specific photographic effect is achieved due to the quality of the light.” – Wikipedia

This is a favorite among photographers as it can create that warm haze look in your image. Plus, the light is soft, which can help you capture catchlights in your subjects’ eyes and nice shadows.

Kids running through a field at golden hour | Outdoor Photography | Golden Hour Photography

There is actually a website that can help you figure out the golden hour where you live! I often set photo shoots around that time in the spring, summer & fall.

Kids playing by a horse


If you are like me, then you may want to take outdoors photos at all times of the day, and not just be limited by the golden hour. Don’t worry – you can still take good photos, even during the harshest times of the day, if you think about your lighting.

Try to avoid shooting in full sun. This is when the sun is high in the sky normally between 11:00 am and 2:00 pm. It causes harsh shadows on your subject. They are normally squinting their eyes when facing you and it can cause your image to have blown highlights.

With a natural back light, however, you can underexpose the skin just slightly, shoot in RAW, and still achieve a dreamy quality in your photos.

Photography Tip: avoid shooting in full sunl


Clipping occurs when your image is overexposed and details are lost in important parts of the picture, like the skin of your subject. In the silly example below, you can see where his skin is clipped on his right cheek, hair, and arm.

Avoid overexposure in your pictures | photography tips

I highlighted the same picture using Lightroom to make it easier for you to see. The red spots are where the image has blown-out highlights.

In this example you can see where the picture was blown out due to overexposure | photography tips

A fun way to take photos in full sun without harsh shadows or blown highlights is to take photos of your subject wearing a hat or sunglasses, or looking away from the camera. You can be creative!

Use creative shadowing to avoid overexposure when taking pictures in high sun

If you find yourself out during full sun, but still want to take great pictures, I encourage you to find open shade.


Open shade is when your subject is in the shade of a building or under a tree. Make sure your subject’s eyes are facing towards the light so they are able to take advantage of catchlights.

The image below was taken at 12:30 pm on a sunny day.

Photograph taken in open shade

This photo was taken in full sun and you can see that it is very bright. I asked him to move 5 feet under an awning where he was in open shade. What a difference! The skin is not clipped, but some of the background is, which isn’t a big deal. You just want to make sure that your subject’s skin isn’t clipped.

If your subjects – mainly children – are outside playing in full sun, you can encourage them to play in open shade. It’s like how we discussed in the post on natural lighting photography – just as you should encourage your kids to move closer to a window to take advantage of the light, you’ll want to do the same outside. Place a toy, bubbles, sidewalk chalk or whatever in the shade and get them to play in a place with better light.

About Tamara Bowman

Tamara is a professional photographer, a mama of two, a writer/blogger and a nearly professional cookie taster. She has been known to be all four of those things at all hours of the day and night. She is a very proud contributor to the book, The Mother Of All Meltdowns. After two cross country moves, due to her intense Bi-Coastal Disorder, she lives with her husband, daughter and son in glorious western Massachusetts. She spends her spare time looking for moose, taking pictures of her kids, and maybe – just maybe – teaching them about photography. She can be found on Facebook @Tamara Camera Photography, Twitter @TamaraCamPhoto , Instagram @TamaraCameraPhoto , and Pinterest @Tamara Camera Photography & Blog and on her blog @Tamara Camera Blog.