Have you ever wondered when the perfect time is to film a scene in natural light? If you have, you may have heard of the phenomenon “The golden hour”. It’s mainly used for photography, but actually, it does an impressive job for us filmmakers too!
The golden hour is the best time in the day for you to film and take photos; it’s not to be missed. That’s why in today’s article, we are going to look at what the golden hour is and how you can utilise the golden hour to its fullest.
It’s perfect for those rom coms, coming of age films and just “feel-good” scenes in general, a beautiful backdrop appreciated by all.
Let’s check out how you can use the golden hour in your next shoot to the best of your ability.
What is the golden hour in photography?
It is essentially a timeframe that lasts 40-60 minutes before sunrise and before sunset. The colour of the natural light is a warm, red hue that allows photographers and filmmakers to take incredible photos and film cinematic scenes.
As the sun’s angle is low, this creates the golden light source that will help you create cinematic scenes. The angles in which the sunrise and sunset occur are as follows:
- Sunrise: -3 to 7 degrees.
- Sunset: 5 to -5 degrees.
Prime golden hour only lasts 25-35 minutes, so ensure you are prepped beforehand to make the most of the golden hour and make those shots count!
More later on, on the top tips!
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What is the golden hour in film?
In film, it’s the same as the golden hour in photography. However, you’re filming a scene and not taking a singular shot.
As you’re filming in natural light and there’s only a set amount of time to film your scene, there are a few restrictions. These restrictions include:
- You only have a few takes. Make sure you rehearse over and over so your actors are ready and prepped.
- Sometimes the golden hours are obstructed by poor weather or conditions out of your control.
- It may only be visible for 15 minutes; it’s not always an hour!
To combat the restrictions, planning and flexibility is key to filming a scene in the golden hour. A little later in the article, we look at the top tips for filming in the golden hour.
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When is the golden hour?
In general, it occurs twice a day. It first appears at the first hour of sunlight and then again at the end of the day at the last hour of sunlight in the evening.
Yep, the golden hour happens twice; if you miss it in the morning, try again later on in the evening. There are additional factors that impact the golden hour. These include the weather conditions, your location around the world and the season.
But, as a general rule of thumb, the golden hour appears at the start of the day and the end of the day.
How long does the golden hour last?
Although it is known as the golden hour, it can last 40-50 minutes. It depends, day in day out, on multiple factors. But if you’re looking to get a crisp shot using the golden hours light, you need to be up early in the morning, waiting for the sun to rise.
Or, stay up late into the evening before the sun begins to set.
Read More: What is Practical Lighting in Film?
Top tips when shooting with the golden hour
Here are a few of our top tips to ensure that you get the most out of the golden hour. Making sure you’re fully prepared and having your goals set out will allow you to utilise it to the fullest; here are a few more tips to get you started.
Let’s check them out!
Map out your location
Scout out your location before the shoot takes place. The reason for this is that so you can work out where you need the actors, where the equipment needs to be, and just in general, any potential blockers.
This means, when it comes to the day of the shoot, you can set up correctly before the golden hour begins and get everything in place to ensure that you have as much time shooting in the golden hour as possible.
Preparation is key, especially when the light source is natural and out of your control.
Again, preparation is key. Rehearsing is instrumental to you nailing the golden hour. The reason being is that by rehearsing prior, your actors know what the goal of the scene is, how the shots set up and give them the chance to get straight into the scene.
This frees up time and allows you to film as many takes as possible in the golden hour, then ultimately in the cutting room, your editor has a lot more to choose from. You are creating a much better film doing so.
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Lighting accessories to soften the light
Light cloth, light material or a bounce board can be the key to getting that cinematic shot in the golden hour? Why do you need to soften the light when it’s already pretty soft light?
Not just to soften the light, it gives you a bit more flexibility when shooting your scene. You can use the bounce board to manipulate the light, especially if you’re looking to angle a shot within the scene.
It gives you options when planning for the shoot.
You may also like to read Bounce Lighting – Key Tips and Techniques
Arrange multiple shoot dates
This one is a given. You can plan as much as you want, but sometimes the weather doesn’t fall your way and the golden hour is more like the “golden minute” and can be tarnished by clouds or, worse, rain showers. This will completely skew the premise and backdrop for your scene.
However, if you have the equipment on you, maybe shoot in adverse conditions, it gives you another option in post production, and hey, it may even work – but worst case, you get to practise.
But this is exactly why you need flexible dates, flexible cast and crew when you shoot using natural light, especially utilising the golden hour.
Be flexible, and you’ll get that shot!
Select a fast lens
This is a must. When using natural light, especially the golden hour, you MUST use a fast lens to ensure you capture clear footage.
For instance, it needs to have bigger apertures, f/1.4 or f/1.8, to ensure you capture clean footage. Any lower, and you risk blurring your footage.
An offset of using a high aperture is creating a bokeh effect in the aesthetically pleasing background to the eye.
Switch off the white balance
Switching off the white balance will effectively neutralise some of the golden hours best properties. This will try and balance out the shot, taking away many reds and oranges that you were looking to utilise in this setup.
Make sure to turn off any automated white balance features to ensure you get the most out of it.
Correct equipment to film in natural light
Ensure you have the correct equipment to allow you to shoot to the best of your ability. This includes having a quick enough camera to process the video footage in such a distinctive light setup.
A lens that’s quick enough to work at the aperture needed. Also, don’t forget the lighting setup – yep, we know you’ll be using the natural light coming off of the golden hour. Try and use bounce boards and cloth to disperse the light and soften it to allow you to get the shot composition needed for your scene.
This all comes with planning and practice.
Check your exposure
Keep an eye on your exposure. Sometimes when shooting in the golden hour, your camera may have an automated setting that tries to balance the shot, causing overexposure. This can also happen when you’re manually trying to compose the shot.
Make sure you haven’t overexposed the shot, or you’ll have an image or video footage with too much white light skewing the shot.
ISO – Settings
As the light level is pretty low, make sure you have the correct ISO settings for the shoot. Make sure you have a great balance that allows you to keep the image light but clear.
This will benefit from a manual setup as you don’t want it overexposed because the automated white balance settings are firing away.
Keep your shutter speed low.
Keeping your shutter level at a low speed ensures you don’t get any motion blur in your shot. As there’s less light, the shutter speed should be reduced to around 1/125.
Make sure your camera(s) are stable too, this will also stop any motion blur. Combining a stable camera setup and a slower shutter speed will ensure you have the best setup possible to capture the footage.
Blue hour vs the golden hour
The Blue hour is the lesser-known of the two but is in its own right an incredible light source.
But what is it?
The blue hour is a time period (not an hour, if we are completely honest) of 30-40 minutes where the sky turns from twilight to a deep dark blue colour. This happens just as the sun pops above the horizon.
This happens both in the morning and in the evening, so you have two chances to utilise the blue hour!
The blue hour is caused when the sun is at an exact point below the horizon where the only light visible is the indirect blue light – this is caused as the blue light has shorter wavelengths which then disperses the blue light across the sky.
The difference between the blue hour and the golden hour
Both the blue hour and the golden hour occur once in the morning and then again in the evening, but how do they differ?
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The difference between the blue hour and the golden hour is a few things, firstly the colour. The colour is dark, deep blue during the blue hour, whereas the golden hours are red, warm, high in hue colour.
The next difference is the timing. The blue hour occurs before the golden hour in the morning and after the golden hour in the evening. Just after the beginning of sunrise and before sunset, the golden hour occurs.
Whereas the blue hour occurs right at the start of the sunset, the blue light peaks over. Then again, just as the sun is going behind the horizon, the blue hour starts.
Natural Light and the golden hour
The golden hour and shooting your scene in natural light go hand in hand; they really do! There are plenty of reasons to use a natural light setup when filming your next movie, and filming in the golden hour is one of the benefits when shooting with natural light.
Here are a couple of reasons why you must shoot using natural light:
- Warmer colours, plenty of reds, oranges and yellows – generating positive and happy feelings.
- Because of the angle, the light disperses evenly, creating a soft, dispersed light, which allows for a cinematic shot.
- Due to the directional lighting, the shot can help you create silhouettes, cool lens flare, and exciting sunbursts.
Filming a movie in natural light is incredibly rewarding, and the results are incredible, and that’s why you must utilise the golden hour, heck, even stay out and film in the blue hour.
When is the golden hour in my country?
The golden hour occurs at different times around the world; however, in most parts, the timeframe of it will be pretty similar, 40 minutes before sunrise and before sunset.
Here’s a quick overview:
When is the golden hour in the US?
The golden hour occurs in the US at the same time as the rest of the world. The only variables are the timezone, coast to coast and the weather.
But anywhere in the world, the golden hour occurs as the sunrise and the sun sets lasting between 40-60 minutes.
As stated above, the best way to utilise the golden hour is prep and the best setup available to you. Ensure you have a manual setup on your camera or phone to ensure you get the best shot composition possible.
When is the golden hour in the UK?
In the UK it occurs at the same time as the US and the rest of the world – before sunset and as the sun sets.
The only variable is the weather, as this can affect visibility, shorten the window you have to shoot in and even obstruct the red and orange colours it produces.
When is the golden hour in India?
Like the UK and US, it occurs in India before the sun rises and sunsets.
It generally lasts 40-60 minutes, but this varies day to day. The weather has a huge impact on colour and visibility. The best thing to do is to ensure you’re prepared and flexible.
Read our top tips above to ensure you are in the best position to capture it.
Our final thoughts
Overall, have fun. Enjoy it. Shooting in natural light can sometimes be frustrating, but overall it’s an amazing thing. The shots you can produce are incredible, and they add so much to your story. Don’t worry if you don’t nail it the first time; the atmosphere is unpredictable, so don’t be too hard on yourself.
Once you do nail it, you’ll be incredibly happy with the results. Whether it’s an integral moment in your story or just a timelapse in your backyard – the golden hour is an incredible phenomenon and one to enjoy!
We hope this article on “What is the Golden Hour and why you MUST use it!” was helpful to you. Let us know your thoughts below in the comments and for more filmmaking resources, scroll a little further!