6 Pro Tips for Making the Most of a Golden Hour Photo Shoot

Nikon Ambassador Corey Rich is convinced that the secret to creating compelling outdoor portraits has very little to do with the actual location selected for the photoshoot and much to do with the photographer’s creativity and technical prowess. Rich demonstrates how to make the most of one’s shooting environment during the Sierra Nevada Mountains’ sunrise golden hour:

Sometimes referred to as “magic hour,” golden hour actually happens twice a day: in the hour just after sunrise and in the hour just before sunset. Living by the old saying that “the sun waits for no one,” Rich makes a point to shoot during those time frames because they produce the most ideal outdoor lighting, perfect for shooting landscapes, portraits, and everything in between.

However, those seeking to squeeze 100 percent of the magic out of sunrise’s golden hour must first do the unthinkable: wake up early.

Tip #1: Arrive before the sun.

Many a photographer wakes up just before sunrise and races to the designated photo shoot location just as the sun is peeking up over the horizon. While that might still yield some great images, it is far better to arrive with ample time to plan—in at least some detail—the various images you intend to make when the light is right.

Actually scribbling down a list of intended shots will help the photographer to maximize his or her creative potential and harness as much “magic” as possible without running out of ideas. Rich keeps his list in his back pocket so that it’s always within reach if he needs inspiration.

behind the scenes california nikon d7100 10-24mm 50mm 70-200mm

Rich found this flat granite dome and planned where his subjects would walk before the sun rose.

Tip #2: Choose your gear wisely.

Instead of hiking in high altitudes carrying a clunky Nikon D4 or D800, Rich opted to use the smaller Nikon D7100 during his shoot because for him, the lighter his pack, the more efficient he is during photo sessions. He also opted to bring only three three NIKKOR lenses—the 10-24mm f/3.5-5.6, the 50mm f/1.8, and the 70-200mm f/4—which gave him plenty of room for creativity, but also did not weigh him down.

Tip #3: Cycle through lenses.

To maximize the potential for visual diversity in a shoot, Rich believes that you should change lenses frequently. Cycling through different focal lengths and compression values keeps the creative gears in the photographer’s head turning and ultimately produces a more varied image roll.

“By switching lenses, I’m forcing myself to see differently. The thought process is to create wide shots, medium shots, and tight shots.”

corey rich sierra nevada mountain california hiker climber

Instead of shooting this portrait with his 50mm, Rich opted to max his telephoto lens out at 200mm.

Tip #4: Carefully consider the light, the composition, and the moment.

Rich believes that it’s important to always keep these three factors in mind. Considering the light means thinking about the direction and quality of the light source, how it interacts with the subject, and how it affects all aspects of the image.

Composition and the moment are the details that work together to tell a story. For example, to shoot his hiking portraits, Rich had to consider whether he wanted to capture the hikers’ feet in the air or on the ground as they walked. He had to contemplate the composition and seize the moment.

Tip #5: Sit or lay down on the job.

Don’t slack off, of course, but don’t be afraid to sit or lay down during the shoot. Often, changing levels in relation to your subjects can provide new perspectives for your images.

Tip #6: Communicate with your subjects.

Rich and his subjects all woke up at the crack of dawn and braved the (probably) chilly weather to make photographs. As the photographer, he could have privately fawned over each awesome image as it graced his viewfinder without involving his subjects (especially when shooting with his 70-200mm), but if he just chimped away and never involved or encouraged his subjects, they might have grown tired and even discouraged.

Instead, Rich spends a good deal of time communicating during his photo shoots, because that exchange is what makes the process fun for everyone.

granite dome sunrise sunset golden magic hour

Hiking up and down this ridge might begin to feel pointless without encouragement.

“When it’s all said and done, it’s all about getting out there, being creative, pushing yourself, and having a lot of fun in the process.”

Like This Article?

Don't Miss The Next One!

Join over 100,000 photographers of all experience levels who receive our free photography tips and articles to stay current:

Leave a Comment

Personalize your comment with an avatar from Gravatar.com!

New! Want more photography tips? We now offer a free newsletter for photographers:

No, my photos are the best, close this forever