Monday, June 8, 2015

The Golden Portrait

by Carol

Oh the summer night
Has a smile of light,
And she sits on a sapphire throne.
                                  Bryan Procter
                                  Summer Night

As you know, our June theme is "The Golden Hour." We have spoken about the luscious landscapes, and the beautiful light you can capture just after sunrise and just before sunset. But I also want to mention that the Golden Hour is a great time to make a beautiful portrait. Portraits during this time have a very different feel than studio portraits do. According to Christopher O'Donnell from, (there is) "a warm, carefree feel to this time and your artistic flexibility is truly unlimited."

When the sun falls low in the sky the light is diffuse and soft so harsh shadows are not cast on your subject's face. While de-emphasizing wrinkles, and harsh facial features, angled light simultaneously emphasizes thin, textured elements like hair and eyelashes.

The warm hues have a saturated and flattering effect on skin tones of all colors, while the hazy, sometimes bokeh-ish background can serve as a frame for a close-up portrait. You can even catch a bit of a sun flare behind to point the viewer's eye at the subject. As a bonus, your subject is not squinting into a bright light.

But the Golden Hour is just that - if you are lucky. It's brief and you had better plan your shoot ahead of time to take full advantage. Try a few test shots at different spots and angles. When I took a photography workshop with Peter Simon, a well known long-time resident of Martha's Vineyard, he took us to his favorite portrait spot - a window of a fishing shack that reflects the setting light perfectly. Peter has used this particular spot with many clients. One of the women in the workshop posed for us to try it out.

I want to show an example here of something else I learned in Peter's class. If you look at the shot below of a fishing contest on the beach, you will see that the horizon line cuts off every man's head.

In the image below, the shell collector is completely inside the light frame - much more effective and comfortable to look at. So always be aware of the placement of your subject.

My advice in this instance is to take a lot of shots. Usually I would not recommend that over a few concentrated shots, but in the Golden Hour the light quality changes from minute to minute and you can capture quite a variation. As Kelly recommended, use an open lens. Joanna Smith (also of recommends between f1.8 and f2.2. Shoot in RAW. I have had many teachers tell me, as Joanna does that it is better to err on the side of over-exposure rather than underexposure so that you retain more pixels to work with in post-processing.

As always - please share! Show us your portraits in our Flickr gallery, Facebook page, or on Instagram......and have fun!


terriporter said...

Well, of course, you know I LOVE that first shot! They are all glowing in that beautiful light. Some of my very favorite portraits that I have taken were during the golden hour and, fleeting as it is, I agree it creates the most beautiful images. Love how the low angle of the sun is illuminating those sweet kitty whiskers! But I always thought it was better to underexpose than to overexpose so after I read your post, I researched that subject and your information is correct. Ha, just when I think I know everything, I find out I don't! :-) Thanks, Carol!

Dotti said...

What a treasure trove of golden hour tips and techniques we're getting this month! Your photos are brilliant and the information is so useful to know. Sometimes it's hard to remember even those things we think we know when we're in the act of shooting, like the horizon cutting off the heads. And we just don't catch those things until we upload to our computers and then we think, omgosh! how did I do that? And it's too late to go back and fix it. I had heard that overexposing was better than underexposing but I didn't know why. It's nice to know the why. Thanks, Carol!

kelly said...

well imagine my surprise to see my mug first thing in this post. what a wonderful memory of a wonderful time with dear friends....not to mention that warm, golden light. thank you for the tip on overexposing...will certainly keep that in mind this month. xoxo

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