green kingfisher diving into a lake

Top Tips: How to Shoot Golden Hour

with your Sony Alpha camera

Get There Early

Golden Hour is usually classed as the hour after sunrise or before sunset. During this time, the light is warmer, and the shadows are long; there is a magic to the light you don't see at any other time. Landscapes come alive, which is one of the many reasons why photographers love shooting at this time.

Don't expect to show up at sunrise and start shooting. Spend some time beforehand researching exactly where the sun will rise or set. Although you might not perceive it during the time, the light is constantly changing, and it can look very different in just a few minutes. So, plan what you want to shoot and arrive with plenty of time before that magical hour begins.

spindly tree on a mountainside with the sun setting behind © Michael Schaake | Sony α7R IV + FE 12-24mm f/2.8 GM | 1/5000s @ f/3.2, ISO 100

Cameras and Lenses

If you are shooting landscapes, you will want a camera with as high a resolution as possible, making cameras such as the Sony Alpha 7R V and the Alpha 7R with their 60-million-pixel resolution sensor great choices for capturing content. Lens choice will depend on your landscape, but there are generally two ways to go; wide-angle or telephoto. Use a lens such as the FE 16-35mm f/2.8 GM II or FE 12-24mm f/2.8 GM to take in a grand view or pick out a particular part of the scene using the telephoto end of the FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS II lens.

However, don't feel constricted by your camera and lens, as there are many things other than landscapes you can photograph during Golden Hour.

late evening sun falling on a straw roofed tree hut © İlhan Eroğlu | Sony α7R V + FE 12-24mm f/2.8 GM | 1/60s @ f/8.0, ISO 160

Don't Just Stick to Landscape

The stunning rays created during Golden Hour allow for a variety of content to be captured. Street photographers can use the long shadows and golden light to create bold, high-contrast images. Portrait photographers can use the sunlight as a giant golden softbox to create flattering shots of people. If the light is too hard on the subject, then a reflector can be used to add some of that golden light to shadows.

It is also a great time to shoot wildlife, with animals venturing out for the day looking for food, and insects staying still, basking in sunlight to get warm. Make the most of the light by using the sunlight as a giant studio light.

giraffe drinking at dusk in the savanna © Francis Bompard | Sony α7R III + FE 400mm f/2.8 GM OSS | 1/4000s @ f/2.8, ISO 1250

Shoot in to the Sun

Golden Hour is the perfect time to shoot backlit photos. It is easy to create silhouettes with your subject against a bright background. Light can look great when filtered through the branches of trees in a misty woodland.

tree shrouded in mist at dawn © Albert Dros

Create Sun Stars

Usually, photographers want to avoid having the sun directly in their photographs, but it can be tricky when it is so low in the sky. Instead of sacrificing a composition, make the sun a feature of the image.

Stopping the aperture down to a small size, such as f/16, can create a sun-star effect. The number of points on the star depends on how many aperture blades your lens has. If the lens has an even number of aperture blades, you will have that many points; for example, eight blades will produce eight points. However, odd numbers of aperture blades will produce double the number, so a lens with seven aperture blades will make 14 points. So, it is worth experimenting with different lenses to see which produces the best sun-star effect.

With excellent optical coatings, Sony lenses can produce great sun stars with minimal flare, so you can get creative without worrying about flare creating distracting elements in your image.

windmill at dawn with the sun peeking through the trees © Albert Dros | Sony α7R V + FE 16-35mm f/2.8 GM II | 1/640s @ f/22, ISO 200

Exposure Settings

With intense low-angle light, Golden Hour is a great time to experiment with exposure settings. However, something to avoid is blowing out any highlights in the sky so that they turn pure white. Keep a close eye on the camera's Histogram, which you can see on the rear screen or through the viewfinder. Having a big peak on the right-hand side means that your highlights are pure white, so dial down the exposure to retain some detail in things like clouds. If the image looks too dark, you can always brighten shadow areas when editing, but once any detail is lost in the highlights, you can't get it back. Thankfully, Sony Alpha cameras have a great dynamic range so that you capture as much detail in the highlights and shadows as possible.

pelican landing on a calm lake © Gustav Kiburg | Sony α1 + FE 300mm f/2.8 GM OSS | 1/8000s @ f/4.0, ISO 1600

Look the Other Way

It is easy to focus on the beautiful sun in front of you that many photographers can forget to turn around. Look in the opposite direction, with the sun behind you and see how it is transforming the landscape and the sky. You will often be rewarded by shooting in the less obvious direction.

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