The Golden Hour often begins when the tours buses depart that iconic location, tired people head home for dinner or (in the morning) when you just want to hit that snooze button one more time. However, this time period offers a special bonus to Camera Drone pilots.
If filming at golden hour was convenient, then everyone would do it. It takes commitment – but getting up early, or staying up late for that shot is totally worth it. It’s the magic hour or so after the sun rises and before it fully sets that truly can make your images come alive.
Why? Well, it’s simple. The higher the sun gets, the less shadows you see, therefore the flatter your images look. Alongside the shadows, the sun makes the world feel warmer due to the sun’s rays having to penetrate more atmosphere during that magical hour.
Of course, too many clouds in the sky can completely ruin the shot you’re setting out to achieve and make you wish you’d slept in, but the times you set up and have the perfect conditions will make you come back again and again.
Below are a few tips (outside of getting your butt out of bed!) to maximize your golden hour capturing experience:
1) Lower is often better:
Flying high can work for some images and video, but staying low can often be more effective and really demonstrate the power of a drone vs a full-scale helicopter. Planning your shot, and treating the drone like a production tool such as a crane, jib, or slider can be much more powerful than simply flying until you’re out of battery.
2) ND when needed (Video Only):
If you’re flying at 24 or 30FPS when capturing video, it’s ideal to keep your shutter lower to avoid a staccato or stuttering look to your footage. Adding an ND (Neutral Density) filter will allow you to do this. On the flip side, when shooting stills, it’s often great to have a higher shutter to make sure you’re freezing everything in the frame and avoiding motion blur in your image. Choose accordingly.
3) Find Layers for more Impact:
Using foreground elements to your advantage can significantly increase the impact of your imagery, and set your work apart. Be on the look out for trees, arches, and other foreground elements that you can use as layers in your images. As the sun rises or sets, they will often become striking elements to use as silhouettes in your photos and video.
4) Shoot into the Sun:
Don’t be afraid to use the sun, and lens flare to your advantage. Often, shooting directly into the sun will create some of the best visuals during the golden hour. Old school people will tell you to always have the sun to your back, but try something new, and you may be surprised with the results. Until you get comfortable with shooting towards the sun, try bracketing exposures, and reviewing them afterwards to see where you got your best results
5) Arrive Early and Be Prepared:
If you’re going to the effort of getting up early or staying out late to capture that perfect moment, then make sure that you’re there early and that you’re not rushed. Allow time for travel, set up, plan shots, format cards, doing a pre-flight check, etc.
The light at golden hour can be a small window to capture that perfect moment, so be prepared, and fly safely.
6) Watch Your Shadows:
With the sun being to your side, this is a big one. Watch that drone shadow! It will sneak up on you time and time again, and if you’re shooting video it’s just best to avoid it.
Another advantage of Golden Hour Photography is that still photographs can be as captivating as videos – with a lot less effort going into the final product.
Be aware, keep an eye, and have fun!
Brent Foster is a Director, DP, and avid aerial pilot based in Ontario, Canada. You can view his work at Foster Visuals, and follow him at the social handles below: