4 Golden Hour Photography Tips

Boys in Dandelions

If you’ve read much about outdoor portraits, you know a lot of us photographers love to shoot during the “golden” or “magic” hour, just before sunset (or right after sunrise).  For practicalities sake, these tips are going to be talking about the hour at the end of the day, not the hour when most people are sleeping…considering that today the morning golden hour would have started at 5:40 am.

If you are wanting to capture this gorgeous light yourself, here are a few tips to get you started.

  1.  Look up the sunset time for the date and location you have planned.  The Time and Date website is great for this, or just type it in your Google search box.  Schedule your shoot 1.5 to 1 hour prior to this time.  In the summer, this is going to be fairly late for families with young children.  Late spring and fall may work better for you.
  2. If your camera allows you to set your white balance, and your subject is between you and the sunset, try starting with a cloudy setting or a temp around 7000 Kelvin.  I know this is somewhat confusing…the sunset is more like 3000 Kelvin, but the light hitting your subject is coming from behind you and is likely a darkening blue sky.Child portraits
  3. Use a reflector to brighten your subject.  This will allow you (or your camera) to expose for your subject while still retaining some detail in the bright skies behind them.  If the sun is still fairly high, position your subject in front of trees or grasses to help block some of the light and create a soft and pretty background.Toddler Portraits in Waterloo, IA
  4. Allow some time after sunset to capture silhouette images while the sky is still streaked with color.  Expose for the sky to throw your subject completely into shadows.Tree Silhouette

Vintage Lens Experiments

I picked up a vintage Vivitar 20mm wide-angle lens a couple of months ago at an antique shop in Galena, IL and purchased an adaptor to mount it to my more modern DSLR.  I’ve been hankering after a wide-angle for a year or two now (and even more so since we started planning a trip to the Badlands and Black Hills), and figured this was an affordable way to see if I liked it enough to invest in the Canon one I’ve been looking at.

With an adaptor between the lens and the camera, there is no electronic communication between the two.  In use, I set the aperture first, using the ring on the lens, then adjusted my ISO and shutter speed to get correct exposure.  Focusing was strictly manual, and either I am terrible at this, or the adaptor is preventing the lens from being able to focus beyond several feet.  I’ll be doing more research on that.  In the meantime, I wanted to share some images I’ve loved despite the poor focus!


Conclusion: Yes, I still really want a wide-angle!  I love the way they capture an almost 180 degree view, and I’m embracing the distortion common with wide-angles when you are close to your subject.  This particular lens can focus as close as 6” so it’s great for capturing small things in a big scene.

P52 Prompt: Motherhood

girl crouched on sandbar looking for rocks

Last week’s prompt for the P52 I play along with was “motherhood”. Of course my first thought was “self portrait with the kids”, quickly followed by, “that would require dressing nicely and doing my hair”. So instead as I flipped through my images from last week, I pulled this one to submit. Because, you know, it has one of my children in it, and she looks cute (picks her own outfits), and this was a moment when I was totally focused on her –observing her, listening to her, responding to her, and enjoying being together.  So, basically, I nailed motherhood for, like, 20 minutes.

Spring Wildflowers | Backbone State Park

Cutleaf Toothwort (Dentaria laciniata) small pink flowers with four petals drooping from an upright stalk bearing 5 lobed toothed leaves
Cutleaf Toothwort (Dentaria laciniata) small pink flowers with four petals drooping from an upright stalk bearing 5 lobed toothed leaves
Cutleaf Toothwort (Dentaria laciniata)

It’s always fun to revisit a favorite place, especially one that holds memories going back to our childhood.  As we drove through Backbone State Park I was recalling the times I’d picnicked there with my cousins, walked the river with my siblings, and hiked it as a teenager.  This time we were on a morel mission.

As we hunted the elusive fungus we came across several other subjects more willing to be found and captured– on film, not in a ‘shroom bag.

This Bellwort was a new discovery for me, and we didn’t see very many of them, just right past the trailhead of the Devil’s Backbone.

Bellwort (uvularia grandiflora) yellow wildflower with drooping twisted bloom
Bellwort (uvularia grandiflora)

This one below is a favorite of mine, although seeing it growing on the side of the hill put it at eye level which made for a different perspective.

Wild Ginger (asarum canadense) red and white 3 lobed flower on fuzzy stalk under leaves
Wild Ginger (asarum canadense)

And go figure we’d find a whole patch of these, and not a single true morel!  Ah well, an excuse to wander the woods another time.

red-brown wrinkled false morel
False Morel (Verpa bohemica)

Toddler and his Tractors | Waterloo, IA


We had a gorgeous evening for this session and the little guy was thrilled to be on his tractor!  He drove, and pushed, and pulled, and dumped, and occasionally stood by it’s side pondering the mysteries of being a toddler farmer.

He stepped away from his work for a few moments to show us his farm and some of his other equipment.  How cute is he on that scooter?


toddler riding scooter toddler holding toy John Deere tractor and wagon boy jumping off vintage livestock trailer

Spring. No, for real this time | Waterloo, IA

I woke up before my alarm this morning because the sun was actually brightening the sky outside my windows.
Thank. Goodness.
I don’t think this family could have handled another rainy day.

I did manage to get out Saturday during one break in the rain and captured a few images that maybe (maybe) have me convinced spring is really here.

Pink Crab Tree blossoms  Morel in situLeaves emerging from Hickory bud