How to Fake the Golden Hour Look in Your Photos

The golden hour look. It’s something that a lot of photographers want to master. Capturing the natural golden light of the sun, whether it is rising or setting; is a magical, mystical, and ethereal effect that any photographer would want to perfect.

Capturing the golden hour look may sound easy. After all, you simply have to shoot while the sun is rising or setting, right? But that’s not all there is to. There are a lot of factors you need to consider.

First off, the weather won’t always cooperate. There will be days when you can’t bring your photoshoot outdoors because it’s raining or maybe because a storm is coming. Sometimes, the weather and outdoor conditions prove to be perfect for your plans, but when you get to your location, the clouds start to build up.

Golden Hour

Second, there will be instances when you will be pressed for time. As such, you won’t be able to wait for the ideal weather to shoot that golden hour look.

All these are instances when the sun, which is the main protagonist of the golden hour look, is either missing or hiding. Fret not, though, because there are actually several tips and tricks you can follow (and master) so you won’t have to worry about perfecting the golden hour look when stuck in the most unfavorable circumstances.

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Tips and Tricks for Faking the Golden Hour Look

The golden hour look has certain characteristics. Each photo should show dimensions, warmth and soft light, golden skin tones, and good backlighting (the more radiant, the better). Even without going outdoors and shooting early in the morning or at dusk, this look can be achieved. Here are simple tips for faking the golden hour look.

The basic gear for faking the golden hour look includes the following:

  • Golden, yellow, or light orange gels (CTO gels can also be used).
  • External light (a strobe or a speedlight; any of the two will do) as your main light source.
  • Fast lens for a soft-focus background.
  • A variety of neutral density filters to avoid overexposing your images.

The following are more detailed tips for your fake golden hour shoot.

1. Choose whether you’ll shoot indoor or outdoor

You can shoot either inside or outside your house. Shooting indoor would be easier because you have more control of your lights and gels. The entire tips and tricks of this tutorial are focused on shooting indoors.

Golden Hour

2. Use several flashes and gels.

You will need a strong flash for the background. Use a gold gel to cover its light. If you cannot find a gold gel, use substitute colors like light orange or yellow. Do not forget to position the flash either in front of or outside the window. Light refraction can be achieved by pointing the flash to the window. More about this at #4.

3. Define the foreground using a weaker flash

Use a weaker flash for the foreground and make sure that it is covered by gold, or orange, or yellow gel. Place the gel over the flash.

It is important to practice light diffusion, as it is what you need to do to produce a soft glow. Be sure to aim the light away from and not towards the foreground.

Find a good gold reflector and a softbox. The reflector is for when you cast the light on the wall, while the softbox is to be used for creating a directional light. Point the light at the foreground using the softbox to achieve the effect you desire.

Golden Hour

4. Make use of the window

If your indoor location has a window or two, use them to your advantage. Place your flash directly outside the window, as doing so will make your subject look like they’re standing, sitting down, or soaking up the afternoon sun.

This is known as the “through the window” technique and is perfect for indoor shoots or for instances when there is no sunlight or when you’re forced to shoot at the wrong time of the day.

5. Use the right camera settings

It is important to know the right settings when shooting indoors. Every photographer knows that the settings differ according to location. The most important things to consider are the aperture, ISO, and shutter speed settings.

Low shutter speed and high aperture are necessary if the aim is to produce crisp golden hour images in almost perfect focus. To prevent image blur, be sure to position your camera on a sturdy tripod. With a low shutter speed, it will be easier for you to capture more light. The high aperture setting is essential for producing the crisp images.

Additionally, you have to keep your ISO below 200. If you have no other choice, try to keep it under 1,000. Keeping your ISO low means more dynamic range and less noise to your photo.

For more glowing or ethereal images, the following settings should be followed: low aperture, high shutter speed, and the right ISO for lighting balance. If you need a quick refresher, check out our article on the exposure triangle.

6. Use Adobe Lightroom

You can also do some post-production, post-shoot work using Adobe Lightroom. There are simple techniques that can be helpful in coming up with the golden hour look. In particular, you can use the latest version of Lightroom (starting with version 5), which features the radial filter that can be used to create a sun-like look. Proper blending is important, but this technique also uses the split toning panel and the highlights color slider, especially if you want to produce good, natural colors.

It is always better to shoot “golden hour” photos during the golden hour. But for instances and situations when the circumstances aren’t ideal or in your favor, there is nothing wrong with using the above-mentioned tips and tricks to create good quality golden hour photos. As always, don’t forget to practice because, as in everything we do, practice makes perfect.

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