The Golden Hour: The #NoFilter Photographers Love

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If you're having Insta-photo envy or just can't figure out why your images seem to lack a certain oomph or added dimension, here are three words to keep in mind: the golden hour.

What is the golden hour?

The golden hour refers to the golden tones that light gets when the sun is low in the sky — whether in the morning or in the evening. If you want to catch the morning golden hour, prepare to get up early ; it's just after dawn. As for evening, we've all seen it -- that magical time as the sun is beginning to sink. If you're planning a photo shoot, check ahead online to get a good sense of sunrise and sunset timing on any given day.

Many photographers consider the golden hour to be the ideal time for photography because the long shadows created by the low sun add interest and depth to any subject. The light at this time is softer, less intense and always flattering. Basically, it's the original "pretty" filter, only totally natural.

These two photographs of the Tyn Church in Prague, Czech Republic were shot during different times of the day. The left-hand version was shot during the middle of the day, while the right-hand version was shot during the golden hour before sunset.

Tips for shooting during the golden hour

1. Look behind you

It's hard not to be enamored with the sun itself during sunrise or sunset, but turn around and you may see some of the best shots in the other direction.

2. Try backlighting

Golden hour sunlight also works well for shooting moody backlit images. Position your subject between your camera and the sun, but avoid having the sun shining directly into your camera. Sunlight from behind will create what's called rim lighting, a golden glow that is especially visible around blowing hair. Some photographers use fill-flash to add a little more light back onto the subject to help balance the exposure.

3. Accentuate the golden hour with white balance

To further amp up the golden tones, try fiddling with the white balance setting. The shade white balance setting and the cloudy white balance settings are meant to compensate for the bluer tones of light when you're snapping pics in the shade, but it can also be used to bring out the golden tones in your photograph.

Better yet, shoot in RAW, and you can adjust the white balance as you see fit when you're editing the image later on.

All Photos via Katie McEnaney

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The Golden Hour: The #NoFilter Photographers Love