4 Key Challenges for Recreating Golden Hour

There is a reason why golden hour is the most desirable time of day for photographers. The sun-kissed look, romantic warmth, and beautiful flares make for wonderful imagery.

Unfortunately, as the name suggests, golden hour is fleeting, and weather can be quite unpredictable; however, your clients are going to expect you to always deliver, regardless of the situation. So, what can you do?

Recreate golden hour.

While the concept may sound simple enough, there are four main challenges to overcome to convincingly recreate golden hour.

1. Creating a Convincing Effect: Cover the Background and Match Light Direction

In order to make your fake golden hour look real, you’ll need to cover enough of the background elements. Simply put, the closer the distance and the smaller the field of view in camera, the less light power you’ll need to convincingly recreate golden hour. For example, to cover about 10-15 feet, you’ll likely need 50-150 w/s, which you can achieve by using 1-3 flashes, or a single medium strobe. Using tighter lenses, such as an 85mm or 70-200mm will make recreating golden hour easier than using wider angle lenses.

If the field of view increases, but you’re maxed out at 150 w/s, you will get a backlighting effect. During golden hour, sunlight washes over everything. Sadly, 150 w/s won’t do the trick to accurately recreate this effect. If the scene or environment you wish to capture is too large to feasibly light to recreate golden hour, there is nothing wrong with backlighting. It simply creates a different look.

Beyond the light we are introducing to the scene, it is also important to note that the sky must also have some color in it, or else once again, our image will simply be backlit and not a recreation of golden hour.

You will also need to consider matching the existing light direction. Even if the sun has set, the area where the sun went down will still be the brightest in the sky. As such, you will need to shoot toward that direction to more faithfully represent the sunlight you might capture during actual golden hour.


2. Laying Down Enough Power

Because you’ll need to light everything in your field of view, you’ll need more power to cover greater distances. In extreme examples, such as across a field, you might need up to 250-500 w/s of power, which equates to 5-10 flashes, or 1-2 medium strobes, or 1 full strobe.

Another thing to keep in mind while lighting to recreate golden hour is the loss of flash power based on your camera settings. High Speed Sync (or HSS) does not really work well with mimicking golden hour lighting. For example, if you’re firing your flash at full power with a shutter speed 1/1000, aperture f/1.4, and ISO 100, you’re losing 5-8 stops of light.

3. Exposure Tricks to Increase Flash Power

One solution involves using a 3-5 stop ND filter, which will reduce all light to 3-5 stops and allow for slower shutter speeds to keep flash within normal sync speed. As a result, power will increase by 5-8 stops.

To get even more power out of your flash, consider adding more ISO. For example, you can set your camera settings to shutter speed 1/60, aperture to f/1.4, and ISO to 200 while using full flash power, you’ll have gained 1 stop (or 200%) flash power. However, if you boost the ISO to 640 with shutter speed at 1/200 and aperture at f/1.4, that is equivalent to 2.5 stops, or 600% additional power. Ultimately, we get more power out of our gear by using an ND filter, boosting our ISO, and speeding up the shutter with each ISO step.

Certain modifiers like zoom reflectors or snoots that don’t reduce too much of your light can also help increase flash power, especially in longer distance situations.

4. Getting a good Flare/Effect

First, place the subject between the camera and light in a position that does not cause the light to blow out details close to the face. Instead, in a portrait situation, you want the flare to barely bleed through to maintain highlight details next to the subject’s head. If you cover the flash entirely, the image will look more backlit than a representation of golden hour.

Bad flare effects occur when details in the hair and face are blown out. Avoid this by placing the light behind your subjects’ heads and slowly step to the side to reveal more and more light, until you reveal just enough light for the perfect capture. Because the amount of flare will vary, be sure to take multiple shots to get the shot you need.


This article relates directly to a video from our Faking Golden Hour workshop, where you can learn how to convincingly recreate golden hour portraits like those that you see above. Upgrade to SLRL Premium now to enjoy full streaming access to this workshop and many others in our extensive library!