Blue hour. Golden hour. Midday. Changes in daylight require different settings and techniques behind the lens. Here’s how.
Mastering natural light is one of the core fundamentals of photography. Changes in daylight require different camera settings or tools to achieve the best possible results.
The color temperature—which pertains to the relative warmth and coolness of light—shifts during each of these periods. The latter is dictated by time or even the number of clouds in the sky.
For example, at dawn, the sky appears light blue. At sunrise and sunset, the sky appears orange or golden.
This guide will help you learn some of the best practices for capturing daylight at different times so you can hone your skills and master the technique.
Knowing how to identify the different characteristics in light is the first step to understanding which camera settings are required to take the best shots. Image via Mike Pellinni.
There are many advantages to shooting blue hour behind the lens. Compared to golden hour, fewer photographers shoot during blue hour (thus, giving you a creative edge).
The color blue also happens to be an effective tool for conveying certain emotions, including serenity, sadness, peace, and more.
But despite the many advantages of shooting during blue hour, you still need to select ideal camera settings to perfect the shot.
Blue Hour Camera Settings
Blue hour gives you some flexibility when choosing your settings. One factor to consider is it’s a time period of relatively low light, meaning you’ll need a long shutter speed to obtain a good exposure.
Generally, you’ll want a narrow aperture to render the entire landscape in focus. You’ll also require a camera mode that offers you greater control over your exposure variables.
A good starting point is to set your camera’s ISO at 100 and use a smaller aperture of around f/7 to f/11. From there, you can adjust the f-number and shutter speed depending on your needs.
Golden hour—also referred to as “magic hour”—occurs shortly after blue hour at sunrise and before blue hour at sunset. The sun casts a soft, radiant glow once it reaches the lowest point on the horizon—making for breathtaking photography.
For this reason, golden hour is widely regarded as one of the best times of day to shoot.
While golden hour, like blue hour, is quite forgiving behind the lens, you’ll still need to adjust your camera settings to produce the best possible results.
Golden Hour Camera Settings
One of the challenges photographers face when shooting golden hour photography is that the light changes quickly. This means you’ll have to adjust your camera settings as the light evolves. As with all times of day, you’ll also need to consider the subject you’re shooting.
The easiest way to adjust your camera settings during sunset or sunrise is to use Aperture Priority mode. This mode allows you to choose the aperture that best fits the circumstances, while automatically changing the shutter speed to adapt to the sun getting brighter or darker.
For example, when shooting landscape photography, you’ll need a narrower aperture (higher f-stop number) like f/16 to increase the depth of field (have more of the image in focus).
As the sun starts to fade, you might find you’ll need to increase the ISO to allow more light through the lens to reach your camera’s sensor.
Midday is when the sun has reached the highest point in the sky—and when it’s at its brightest and harshest. With the sun beaming down directly overhead, you’ll find a greater degree of contrast with brighter highlights and darker shadows.
Eyebrows and foreheads can create unflattering shadows over a subject’s eye sockets. Fortunately, there are ways you can deal with the harsh light source with the following tips and tricks.
Midday Camera Settings
First thing’s first, close the aperture. Given that you’re working with harsh, bright light, you’ll want to reduce the amount of light that’s hitting your lens and reaching your camera’s sensor. Set the aperture to around f/11.
You might find that your exposure meter is jumping from left to right as your camera struggles to find the right exposure. One reason for this could be that your camera is set in auto mode.
In this instance, your camera is working overtime, trying to figure out the correct exposure based on shadows and highlights in the frame. This is exactly why you’ll need your camera in manual mode, so you can control the shutter speed for exposure.
Shooting Midday Portraits? Keep the Following in Mind.
Since midday is widely regarded as one of the most challenging times to shoot portraits, we’ll go over some additional pointers on how best to take portrait photography in the midday sun.
If possible, capture your subject with their back to the sun. As long as the sun is slightly angled, then backlighting is possible.
With no shade available, your only choice is to position your subject so no direct light falls on their face causing them to squint. Instead, their face will be evenly shaded thanks to the backlight.
When metering on the face, you’ll find the background elements are overexposed and will therefore lose some details.
Perhaps you like this effect. But, if you want to maintain details in the background, it’s best to use a reflector to redistribute the light by bouncing it back onto your subject.
Alternatively, you can seek shade by placing your subject in a shaded area, such as beneath a tree. This will create even lighting with no harsh shadows.
Be wary of any patchy shade. This can produce dappled light on your subject, creating uneven light on their face and body.
Lastly, a diffuser can help spread light evenly across your subject, filling in any unflattering shadows on their face.
A diffuser also gives your subject a break from the harsh sun, providing them with some soft, diffused light that doesn’t make them squint.
Cover image via Mike Pellinni.