Golden Hour: How to Shoot Stunning Sunset Photos

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Golden Hour Sunset on Moment Lens by Zach Reed
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Sunsets are pure magic. There’s a narrow window every day (weather permitting) when we can experience the sun casting golden and pink hues across the sky and landscape. It lingers for around an hour before vanishing beyond the horizon.

Capturing that surreal glow can be quite a challenge. Usually it’s not as simple as pointing your phone at the sun and snapping a few photos. A lot of thought and technical know-how can go into capturing jaw-dropping sunset photos.

But if you don’t have time for a week-long course, here’s a pretty awesome cheat sheet:

#1 - Location, Location, Location

The most important component of a good sunset photo is the location. Go somewhere particularly scenic, like a beach, mountain top, field, or lake. Scout your location in advance to figure out the best point of perspective. Think about which elements (a structure, rock formation, etc) will accent the sunset. Having this planned makes shooting much easier. Look at hiking forums, Google Maps, or search around Instagram for inspiration. Getting the perfect shot will take some research, scouting, and probably a little luck.

#2 - Where’s the Sun?

You also need to know where the sun will set. This changes with the season and your location on the globe, so it’s best to use Google or an app like Sky Guide to pinpoint exactly where the sun will touch the horizon. This is especially important if you are in an area where the sun could be obstructed by mountains, rocks, or buildings. Figuring this out will help you be in the right position to get the best possible results.

#3 - Golden Hour

Golden hour (also known as magic hour) is a time when the light is the softest and typically the most colorful. It happens around sunset and also sunrise, but who wants to wake up that early? Golden hour is your best bet to capture the most stunning imagery, but the window is short, so you should arrive at your location one hour in advance to set up equipment and get your shots lined up.

#4 - Camera Settings

The first thing you’ll notice is that it’s hard to find a perfect balance between shadows that are too dark and highlights that are too bright. An easy fix for this is to shoot in RAW, which allows you more control when editing later. The Moment App will let you do this. That isn’t the perfect solution, but it’s a great first step.

Another option is to set your exposure based on your highlights, which means shooting everything a touch darker than you normally would. Touch your screen to lock focus/exposure, and then bring exposure down a notch. This will allow you to retain your highlights, while creating a nice dark contrast on your shadows. You can always lighten your shadows and bump up highlights later. It’s much harder to repair overexposed highlights. Slightly under-exposing like this will also allow you to retain more color information, especially when shooting RAW.

Sunset is absolutely one of the best times to shoot. It’s almost cheating because the light is so good and requires the least amount of camera manipulations. Be sure to have fun and let your creativity take the wheel. After all:

"You miss 100% of the shots you don't take - Wayne Gretzky" - Michael Scott

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