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Can You Tell The Difference Between Golden Hour And Artificial Golden Hour?

By Joseph Cha on December 11th 2015

Can You Tell The Difference?

Below we have three different shoots, a maternity session, day-after wedding session and a wedding day portrait session. One was shot at Golden Hour with the sun above the horizon, and two were shot when the sun had already set. Can you tell which is which? (Answers are at the bottom of the article).


Scene One: Maternity Portrait Session


Scene Two: Day After Wedding Portrait Session


Scene Three: Wedding Day Portrait Session


Like a Magician

Now you would think recreating a giant 432,474 mile diameter ball of gas that’s 93 million miles away would be difficult, but it’s actually quite simple. All you need is a powerful strobe, move it up 92.999 million miles closer, and viola, Sun galore! Check out how Pye does it in the video below!

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The Pledge

During a wedding mood board review, the bride told Pye that she really liked “golden hour” shots. So when they began planning their wedding day, the bride and groom scheduled a 30-minute Golden Hour photo session. But like most weddings, things didn’t run on time.

The Turn

Although there was an epic golden hour on that wedding day, the bride had missed it. She had an outfit change for the reception, and because of an unfortunate turn of events, she was late to the planned photo shoot and the sun was gone.

The Prestige

I’ve worked closely with Pye for a few years now, and he is no slouch when it comes to his clients’ vision. He could have easily thrown his arms up in the air and said “we can wait another 23 hours for golden hour, but I will have to add another 24 hours of additional coverage to your package,” but he didn’t. Instead, he used the powerful Profoto B1 to bring the sun back.

How He Shot It

The Gear

Pye had his awesome lighting assistant Karen set up the Profoto B1 and put two Color Temperature Orange (CTO) Gels on it. Why make the light so orange? Because as the Sun sets, its color frequency shifts to more orange and reds hues because of how far the light travels through the atmosphere (if any scientists would like to correct or expand on this, please do so in the comments below). Pye then instructed Karen to take the B1 about 200ft away behind some trees, identical to where the sun had just set from their point of view. Why so far? Because the strobe had to light everything the sun would have lit if it were still above the horizon. That means all the trees, architecture, and every significant object in the frame had to have a natural “sunlight” on them.

Did It Work?

Yes, and convincingly so. See for yourself.








Did You Guess Correctly?

If so, let us know what gave it away in the comments!

Scene One – Maternity Portrait Session: Artificial Golden Hour w/ Profoto B1
Scene Two – Day After Wedding Portrait Session: Authentic Golden Hour
Scene Three – Wedding Day Portrait Session: Artificial Golden Hour w/ Profoto B1

For more Lighting tips and tricks be sure to check out our Lighting 101 and Lighting 201 Workshop DVDs, now 30% with the code: happyholidays30

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I’m a photographer and cinematographer based in Southern California. When I don’t have a camera in my face I enjoy going to the movies and dissecting the story telling and visual aesthetics.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Nob Proudfoot

    I guessed right, it’s because on first look the dark tones from scene one, there’s already a hint of orange, blacks are not pure unlike on scene two, and in scene three, mid tones / flesh tone had too much hint of orange and the background trees that should be dark greens or dark silhouette had orange highlight, it looked like the sun was in front of those trees not at the back. But the trick was really good I had to look twice on the third scene.

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  2. Tony Nguyen

    Can;t wait to use this this weekend!

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  3. colin Charisma

    Fantastic! thank you :) Very cool.

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  4. Juraj Dorko

    When I was pressed to tell, I guessed correctly. But had I not known, I wouldn’t have guessed that the sun isn’t real in those shots with Profoto. Great job.

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  5. Dan Robinson

    That is too cool…
    Thanks for the run down of how you did it

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  6. shane jackson

    I didn’t think this was possible. Fantastic wedding photography blog post.

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  7. Greg Geis

    Only because I had been told and I figured only one was natural. The second scene seemed like it would be the biggest PITA to get an artificial light to come from. I was thinking, how did they get that much light? I figured it was some photoshop action, impressive that a strobe can put out that kind of power.

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    • Colin Woods

      I had a quick look on the B&H site and its TTL at 300ft. You just put the transmitter on the camera and blaze away – it does all the thinking. Fantastic kit.

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  8. Michael Yuen

    Correction: “scene 2 was easier” was meant as, “it was harder than the first scene” (as in: scene 1 = easiest, scene 2 = easier, scene 3 = hardest)

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  9. Michael Yuen

    Holy smokes on the B1’s $2000 price tag! The first scene was easy (only because of the 2nd shot), scene 2 was easier, and the last scene I definitely got wrong (thought it was natural.) Either way, if I wasn’t told some were artificial, I’d have never guessed or scrutinized! Well done! But whoa… $2000!

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    • Colin Woods

      Pro level tools with pro level price tags. If the photographer (Pye in this case) can rescue a shoot and send away a bride and groom awed by the photographers’ brilliance then that $2k is money well spent. She will tell all her friends about her disappointment being changed into happiness and they will have that good recommendation in their minds. Two thou’ for a good reputation and word of mouth is a great investment.

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  10. David Blanchard

    This is a difference that doesn’t make a difference. Pixel peepers only need apply.

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    • Joseph Cha

      This was actually one of the key points of the video. If you can deliver a look that your clients want regardless of circumstance (in this case the sun going down), then you have done your job well.

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    • Mike Upton

      Actually, it makes a huge difference. The bride wanted specific shots and the photographer was able to deliver despite literally working against the Earth itself.

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    • Mike Upton

      The first one is pretty obvious that there’s SOMETHING there that isn’t the Sun. It’s just not quite right and a bit much if you ask me. The second and third set, I couldn’t tell. I thought they were both natural sunlight. My God, though, at the last set. Absolute brilliance and the wow factor on those photos is through the roof.

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    • Mike Upton

      And I know it wouldn’t have anything to do with the “recreating the sunlight” topic of this post, but I’d love to see the detail shots of her hands.

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  11. Stephanie Toscano

    I guessed correctly as soon as I saw the engagement photos. I don’t know if this is an accurate “giveaway” but, for me, it was the fact that some of the greenery was still green, even with the orange light shining through some of it. The general flood of orange light and orange flare in the maternity session didn’t look natural to me.

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    • Pye

      Stephanie, take another look at the three scenes.

      When the light is far enough back, it is very convincing (hopefully as you can see in the wedding). When compared to the shot of the sun actually coming through the same area, it looked virtually identical to the simulated shot.

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  12. Colin Woods

    Excellent work. I would never had guessed that you could successfully use a flash from 300ft.

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  13. Kevin Gamble

    I guessed right. And maybe because it was 50/50, but I stuck with my guess because of the first image in the engagement. The singular orange spot, with greenery around it looked more natural than the blown out orange of the maternity.

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    • Pye

      Kevin, take another look at the comparison with the three scenes, not just the two.

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