golden hour drone photography tips

How to get a perfect drone photo during the Golden Hour

The following is a guest post by photographer Max Therry.

Golden Hour is that magical time of day just after sunrise of just before sunset. During Golden Hour, it seems that the entire world is dipped in a beautiful golden glow.

The clouds are lifted. The sky is clear. And the sun rises or sets in a way that your images appear soft and ethereal.

It’s famously known to be incredible for portraits, landscape shots and also — aerial photography.

What Is Golden Hour?

Golden Hour (often called Magic Hour) is the quality of light that comes during the first and last hour of the day’s sunlight. During this twice-a-day event, there’s a soft warmth to the sky that yields incredible images for photographers of all kinds.

If you’re curious about when exactly Golden Hour happens in your city day, you can visit the Golden Hour calculator website. This information is also available on smartphone apps such as Lumy.

Lighting Aspects of Golden Hour

During Golden Hour, the sky moves from oranges and reds to yellows (given the right conditions). Golden tones produce a warm color with soft, diffused lighting. The sun is low in the sky, meaning that strong shadows and harsh lighting and contrasts aren’t prevalent.

Vast canyons of the Utah Desert at sunrise, as seen from a drone. iStock

It’s a beautiful time for landscape photography — particularly, when that landscape is seen from the vantage point of your drone, way up high and yielding cinematic results.

Why Drones Are Great for Capturing Golden Hour

When it comes to Golden Hour photography, drones provide flexibility. You can fly high or soar low through the sky. Golden Hour’s long yet soft shadows help to define certain features of aerial terrain — from the mountains, to water, to desert, to buildings.

golden hour neighborhood drone


Golden Hour often produces images that look other-worldly and whimsical as it is. Pair that quality with the often surreal nature of an aerial image, and you are set for success.

Tips for Taking Stellar Images

Here are some simple tips to capture memorable Golden Hour images.

  1. Plan Ahead: Weather is always a factor in aerial photography and needs to be considered in Golden Hour photography as well (since heavy clouds can result in the loss of that extraordinary light). If you’re planning for sunrise, you’ll find the advantage of mist and slight fog, which make for atmospherically unique images.  During sunset, you’ll experience silhouettes and deep, saturated tones.
  2. Fly Lower: With drones, it’s sometimes second nature to want to fly the drone as high as it can go and have a sweeping shot looking down over the land. However, during Golden Hour, remember that flying lower can work wonders, too. “The great thing about a drone is you don’t need to move to change your viewpoint, you just have to move the drone,” said Thomas Foster. Shoot a scene from all directions — it will appear differently based on the shadows from the sun, or the landscape itself.” This idea is especially true during Golden Hour, when the shadows from the sun appear different at all points in your landscape.
  3. Look for Layers and Shadows: Golden Hour offers a dynamic range of soft diffused lighting and warm temperatures. Look for layers that can be captured with the drone (the mountains with the sea below, a field of flowers with the sky in the background, etc.). Also, keep your eyes open for friendly shadows that will enhance the mood and feel of your photos.
  4. Try Different Angles and Positions: During Golden Hour, the light changes rapidly, which means that subjects may look vastly different from one minute to the next. Just like flying lower, don’t be afraid to experiment with various angles and positions. Play with front lighting as well as backlighting to see what sort of images these variations produce.
  5. Experiment with Post-Processing: Epic Golden Hour shots can be all about the Color Temperature and White Balance. Luckily, you can use post-processing to adjust these (and other) features if things didn’t quite go as plan during the initial flying. All the modern photo editors, like Adobe’s Lightroom, Luminar or GIMP, will allow you to adjust Color Temperature and Write Balance using a simple sliders to make the colors on your photo to make it look cooler or warmer.  
  6. Balance the Exposure: The contrast between light and shadow isn’t as extreme during sunrise and sunset Golden Hour, but there can still be a huge tonal range between highlights and lowlights (or, shadows). You can underexpose to add a bit more vibrancy or photograph multiple exposures for an HDR image.
  7. Shooting AEB (Automatic Exposure Bracketing): You can create natural looking HDR photos with your drone by using AEB. In AEB mode, your drone will automatically take a series of several pictures of the same scene, each with different levels of brightness. “On their own, these individual photos are going to be under- and over-exposed,” said Chris Anderson. “That’s okay though; once you merge them together, you’re going to have a thing of beauty!” HDR, High Dynamic Range, photography works to display maximum details between the lightest and darkest parts of your image — making it perfect for aerial Golden Hour images.
  8. Take Tons of Pictures! In the end, the best tip of all is to take tons of pictures! One of the most rewarding parts of capturing Golden Hour is that you can do it twice a day, every day — and each time, you’ll find you get dramatically different end results.
golden hour drone beach


-By Max Therry

Max Therry is an architecture student who is fond of photography and wants to become a professional photographer. He is also working on his photography blog about photo editing, modern photo trends, and inspiration. Feel free to contact him by email or follow on Instagram.”

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