How to Fake the Golden Hour for Portrait Photography

Everybody loves soft golden hour light. Portraits shot during the golden hour always have that something extra. But the problem with golden hour photography is that the window of opportunity is small. Depending on the latitude and the season, you get about an hour to shoot at the most. But what if you could extend the golden hour? Or at least have its effects last a little bit longer? Mark Wallace from Adorama shows us how:

Gear for Faking the Golden Hour

  • An external light. It doesn’t matter if it is a speedlight or a strobe. Wallace uses a Profoto B2 head.
  • A CTO gel. This will turn the strobe into a warm 3200 degree Kelvin light.
  • A fast lens (f/2.8 or faster)
  • Variable neutral density filter

The external light mimics the golden hour sun. The composition has to be spot on so that the light and the light stand are not in the frame. You need the effect in the image not their physical presence of the light source. The flare of the light will, however, be welcome.

The key to faking the golden hour light is in using a CTO gel and then dialing in the right white balance. Wallace picked up a CTO gel, which when used on the B2 strobe produced a warm tungsten light reminiscent of the golden hour sun. He set is white balance to daylight so the effect of the CTO gel wasn’t cancelled out.

how to mimic the golden hour


A fast lens is advised is because it helps in achieving that soft, mushy bokeh effect for the background. This is commonly used in golden hour portraits, and as the results will reveal, it looks quite beautiful.

The final tool is the variable neutral density filter. If you’re using a wide aperture like f/2.8 (or faster), you risk overexposing your images in bright conditions An ND filter helps you balance the exposure.

How to fake golden hour

A ND filter allows you to shoot with a wide aperture.

Camera Settings

Set the light on full power to produce some highlights around the model’s hair and shoulders. Dial in the desired aperture value. Then dial the variable ND filter so that the built-in meter says that the image is slightly overexposed. Expose for the model’s face.

This is Wallace’s result:

tips on faking the golden hour

Faking the golden hour

Of course, it’s a lot simpler to shoot a portrait during the golden hour, but when conditions aren’t quite right, this technique for faking it could do the trick!

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