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Even if you’ve never heard of golden hour, you’ve probably observed it. It’s that perfect time of day right after dawn and again just before dusk, when the sun glows so brightly and so warmly that everything is coated in orange, golden light. If you’re lucky, you get to experience golden hour (also called magic hour for obvious reasons) twice a day, but those who live in cloudier, colder climates may only see them every so often.
No matter how often or seldom you find your world turning this perfect shade, you’ll want to be ready to capture it. Here are a few apps and other resources for taking and creating golden hour photos.
The Magic Hour app has less to do with how you take and edit photos and more with how you plan them. The app uses your location and the date to tell you when the light is going to be perfect–and how long it will last. Golden hour (or magic hour) happens twice a day, in the morning and evening, and the app alerts users to both windows. Users can also customize alerts so the app will deliver a heads up prior to the perfect sunrise or set.
Much like Magic Hour, Helios uses the date and location to calculate golden hour. Unlike Magic Hour, which is free, the $0.99 app allows users to save multiple locations and lets them plan for future magic hours. Helios also has specialty photography tools like an augmented reality lens that helps users watch the Moon’s and Sun’s path in AR as well as a light meter function so you can preset your ISO and shutter speed.
Admittedly, this is going to be easier for semi-practiced photographers, but Helios’s tool is fun and simple to experiment with and can hugely improve your golden hour photos. And of course, the app has a Dark Mode setting, which will hugely help when that eye-piercing sunlight comes streaming in.
“How to fake golden hour: a thread”
The social web is full of how-to threads, including, of course, “how to fake golden hour.” These user-created instructions often send people to photo-editing app VSCO or something similar and tell them how to toggle temperature, saturation, and other settings to create a golden hour photo effect. (And yes, many of these crowd-sourced manuals focus on taking the perfect golden hour selfie.)
Everyone’s preferred edits are a little different, but are a good way in general to find your ideal effect.
app: VSCO— instagram: goalsofteens (@goalsofteensig) July 14, 2018
skin tone: -1.5 or -1.7
highlights: +3 for a peachy look
shadows tint: +2.5 for an orange look
get glowin ☀️✨⚡️
fake golden hour 🌤— EYEOFSCOTTIE 🅴 (@eyeofscottie) February 17, 2019
white balance | temperature +4.0
exposure at -4.0
optional: grain at +2.5 | highlight at -2 pic.twitter.com/VASQgi4axz
How to fake golden hour:— Hizuh (@bustedbrownboy) January 6, 2019
-(depending on preference) grain: +4.0 pic.twitter.com/55kqgfnk0S
If you want more of these sorts of guides, head to Pinterest, which is full of ideas.
Clip-on smartphone lenses simulate golden hour
If you don’t live in a place where the warm, hot sun hits the horizon and casts an orangey glow over everything–you can still get golden hour photos. There are plenty of clip-on lens kits that add the desired hue to your photos without any post-production editing. Can’t find the right shade? Create your own.
Molly McHugh is the tech editor of the Daily Dot, focusing on technology, social media, sports, and streaming entertainment. Her work has also appeared in Wired and the Ringer.