Golden Hour Photography: The Best Time to Take Photos

There are a lot of different elements that go into getting the perfect photos. Location, coordinating outfits, good lighting, camera quality, etc. And while a lot of things come down to a science, there are certain things that can’t be controlled. The WEATHER for example. Here on the east coast, you can get a lot of thunderstorms, tropical weather, gusts of wind and more. And while it would be so nice to snap our fingers and make the settings ideal, that unfortunately doesn’t happen. Luckily storms seem to run through the area quickly so one minute there can be a rain storm and the next is sun… but again, it’s SO HARD to know.

So while there are so many things that are out of our control, there are some things, that as photographers we have learned and studied to try to get the best picture possible, and one of those things is when you choose to take your photos.

The Golden Hour

There is this magic time, called the golden hour, which takes place before the sun sets and after the sun rises where the lighting is softer, golden and honestly dreamy.

Exhibit A:

sunset over the atlantic ocean on kiawah island south carolina

This magical sunset on the beach in Kiawah during golden hour with hues of yellow, red and orange that transforms an already beautiful setting into one even more amazing.

But we have learned a few things about this so called “golden hour”.

1. Sunrise vs. Sunset

We often get questions asking if we do morning sessions instead of just evening sessions. But here’s the thing: sunrise and sunset are NOT the same… at least along the east coast. As the sun rises over the ocean you are hit with some pretty intense sun, rising at the same height as you. This can cause more glares, harsh light, and more squinting. So we have learned through trial and error (at least on Kiawah) that this is not the ideal time for photos.

2. Timing is Key!

We really call golden hour the last hour and 15 minutes worth of sun before the sun sets behind the horizon. You definitely DO NOT want to start a session right before the sun sets, as you will hardly have enough time to get in photos, as the sky appears too dark. So, be prepared with more time. We like to start our sessions in shaded areas before moving to the beach. This way you have plenty of time to get in all of the photos you need. We love options!

baby moon photos in kiawah beach at golden hour

3. Give Yourself Those Extra 15 Minutes

So if the sun were to set at 8:29, start your session at 7:15. If you want more than an hour long session, or need more than an hour to get to your destination just time it accordingly. Again timing is key.

4. Watch the Weather

We like to check the weather the day of the session as forecasts can often be wrong. If you are wanting good architectural photography for example, clear skies are more ideal, but some of those moody, cloudy family sessions with the sun peaking through and that golden hour lighting are simply stunning.

Exhibit B:

golden hour family photography beach kiawah island

The sunset was coming through the clouds for some gorgeous moody, golden photos. Click here to see more from this session.

Some of our favorite ways to check the weather are:
Intellicast: This checks the weather and the direction the storm is going. That way you can try to estimate when the storm will be coming and how quickly it is moving.
Weather Underground: This app uses personal weather stations which have instruments that gauge temperature, humidity, rainfall, wind speed and direction so you can get up-to date forecasts to your phone.
Sun Surveyor: See when the sun is setting during the time of year to know exactly how to time your photos best. Plus, this app was made specifically with photographers in mind. You’re able to use your device’s camera so you can see the direct path of the moon and the sun so you can scout the best locations for video and photos.

Why Photography in The Middle of the Day is NOT Ideal

I’m sure you can gather from this that evenings will be the best time to have your photos taken, but what if your kids go to sleep early and you are wanting to get photos earlier. Or if you don’t think you have time earlier in the day? If you are spending a good amount of money on paying someone to take your photos, you probably want to get the most bang for your buck. AND the photographer wants to give you their best, always! The lighting in the middle of the day is so bright, not to mention in the south in the middle of the summer in the middle of the day it is SO HOT outside that family sessions will probably result in more sweat, squinting, harsh lines, and it’s just not as good! If you’re not in water you probably don’t want to be outside. That humidity y’all.

If you have young kids we recommend naps in the day, snacks before hand and during, and bringing something to entertain them. That might not always work and you know how your kids are and react so play it by ear. Choose a time two hours before sunset. And if you can, stay away from photography in the middle of the day.


We love capturing your family’s sweet moments. That’s why we want to make sure we do all we can to get the most out of our time together. Golden hour really is the optimal time to have your photos taken… even when considering all of the elements that are outside of your control.


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