Working with directional light can be tricky.
Finding a balance between the sky and darker areas of a scene can be hard even during the golden hour. Shooting into the sun with your subject’s back to the light will produce a beautiful backlit effect, but it leaves your subject’s face in shadow. “You don’t have a ton of light on their face, so if you’re not exposing your camera properly, you can lose all of the beautiful highlights on their skin,” explains photographer David Green. There are a number of different ways to combat this:
Raise your shadows and pull down your highlights.
Green recommends using an adjustment brush to pull up shadows on individual parts. Pulling up shadows and pulling down highlights can help restore balance between the brightest and darkest parts of an image. Learn how to use shadow and highlight clippings in Adobe Lightroom and how to use adjustment brushes in Lightroom.
“JPEG files make editing and processing photos more difficult because you have less data to work with,” Schwindt explains. As the sun sets and less light is available, the ability to recover deep shadows in underexposed parts of your photos becomes increasingly important.
Watch your dynamic range.
To pull up deep shadows in post-processing, you need to expose your photo properly, but your camera also needs to capture the necessary information. For best results, use a camera with a high dynamic range, which measures how many stops of exposure it can capture in a single frame. The best cameras for the job will typically be full-frame DSLRs.
Use a fill light.
Flashes or reflectors help fill in the shadows on your subject’s face for a more evenly lit exposure. “It can be hard to include the sky because the exposure of it and the subject are two different things. Using fill flash can really make a difference. It’ll illuminate the person,” says Tryforos.
Shooting to edit.
Post-processing tools open up a world of possibilities for photographing the golden hour. If you’re having trouble keeping your highlights from being blown out, you can edit for results you can’t get in-camera. This requires more forethought. “Have a vision for how you want the photograph to turn out. That will impact what you do in post-processing,” advises Schwindt. “I’m always shooting to edit — always thinking about how the photo’s going to look once I bring all the colors up,” adds Green.
Blend HDR photos.
One technique used by landscape photographers is to take multiple photos at different exposures and combine them in Lightroom. “You can blend different exposures to compensate for the much brighter sky in comparison to a darker foreground,” explains Schwindt. For Adobe Photoshop, check out this tutorial to learn how to merge HDR photos.
Adjust white balance.
Learn how to enhance the colors of a sunset by controlling temperature, tint, and saturation in your photos.
Work with the HSL panel.
“Direct sunlight from the golden hour can make skin look quite orange. I like backlit photos to avoid that look,” says Byrne. But if you don’t want all your photos to be backlit, learning to correct skin tones by making adjustments helps you avoid this problem while keeping your lighting options open.
There are a lot of considerations that go into a successful golden hour shoot. But a little planning and know-how can help eliminate those worries so you can step back and take in the beautiful light around you.