When is the golden hour, and how to use it for iPhone photos?

Have you ever noticed that your photos radiate a certain glow when taken early in the morning or late in the afternoon? You can thank the golden hour for this phenomenon, and you can use it to your advantage. 

Golden hour photos have longer shadows, a greater sense of depth, and a warmer, more even tone. Not only can you use this trick to take magical iPhone photos, but you can also add a golden hour look to photos taken any time of day.

What is the golden hour? The meaning explained

The golden hour is a photography term that describes the period just after sunrise or just before sunset, when the sun is low in the sky. It’s called the golden hour because the angle of the sun creates light in the yellow range — very warm with a golden hue. When the sun is near the horizon, its rays have to travel through more of the atmosphere, which creates a softer, more diffused light. 

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What time is the golden hour?

The golden hour can be more or less than an hour before sunset or after sunrise, depending on where you live. Generally speaking, the further away from the equator you are, the longer it will take for the sun to rise above or sink below the horizon. Aim to get outside with your camera in the early morning and late afternoon to take advantage of the golden hour lighting.

Why is the golden hour important?

The golden hour has a magical way of making the most novice photographers seem like professionals. The light during the golden hour is incredibly forgiving, with a gorgeous glow that tends to generate positive responses from viewers. Perhaps that’s why sunset shots garner so much engagement on Instagram? 

Using golden hour in your iPhone photography

While taking advantage of the golden hour makes sense in many situations, it also depends on the look you’re trying to capture. Dark, moody photos don’t require golden hour lighting, and flat lays often require brighter light than the golden hour can provide. Golden hour photography works best for landscapes, portraits, and pet photography, but don’t be afraid to experiment.

Now that you know a little bit more about the golden hour and how it can add a touch of magic to your photos, it’s time to put what you’ve learned into action. You don’t need a fancy camera to capture the golden hour in your photos. Grab your iPhone and head outside for a golden hour photo shoot. Here are some of our favorite tips for golden hour photography.

How to shoot golden hour photography with your iPhone

  • Choose the right location. To create a unique composition, you need to find a location that takes full advantage of that gorgeous golden-hour light. Great vantage points include the lake or seashore, unique urban settings, fields and meadows, and any wide-open vistas. 
  • Use a tripod and remote shutter. The less light there is available, the more likely it is that your photo will be blurry. You can solve the issue of camera shake by using a small iPhone tripod and remote shutter. 
  • Try the HDR feature. The subtle High Dynamic Range (HDR) feature on your iPhone camera captures the bright and dark light extremes in your photo. This feature works really well during the golden hour. To switch it on, simply go to your Camera app, tap HDR at the top of the screen, and tap On. 
  • Shoot reflections. Combine standing water with golden-hour light and you’ve got a recipe for a gorgeous photo. Whether it’s a vast lake or a mud puddle, look for interesting ways to include water in your shots. 
  • Use backlighting. Try framing the sun directly behind your subject so that it is completely hidden within your shot. This creates a bit of a silhouette, while still highlighting the details of your subject. 

How do you add a golden hour look to your iPhone photos?

When it comes to golden hour photography, nothing beats the real deal. You can, however, recreate some golden-hour looks using the photo editor on your iPhone. The native iPhone photo editor is quite limited in scope, but if you’re looking to add a little golden hour warmth, it can do the job. Follow these steps:

  1. Using the Light menu, turn up the brilliance and turn down the highlights.
  2. Using the Color menu, turn up the saturation a bit, as well as the cast.
  3. If you want to try a filter, try Vivid Warm.

In the photo below, the original was taken just after sunrise. The above edits were added later using the iPhone photo editor. The photo was taken during the golden hour, but the natural lighting was poor due to clouds on the horizon.

What are some good golden hour apps?

We've mentioned Lumy in our roundup of the best iOS photography apps, but there are more great apps that help you shoot exceptional golden hour photos. Here are a few that we’re loving right now.

The Photographer’s Ephemeris

If you’re looking for an app to help you plan ahead for your next photo shoot, then the Photographer’s Ephemeris is a must-have. This handy app allows you to observe the sun’s and the moon’s movement on a map, as well as a time-table that gives you the times for sunrise and sunset, moonrise and moonset, and nautical and civil twilight based on your GPS location. You can set your current date and location, or plan for a future photography trip at the tap of a button.

The Photographer’s Ephemeris on the App Store


Before you plan the perfect photography trip, be sure to check the weather with an accurate weather app. That golden-hour light may be nonexistent. Yr.no is a reliable weather app that automatically finds the weather forecast for your nearest location. This is a must-have for all outdoor photo enthusiasts.

Yr.no on the App Store

Magic Hour

Magic Hour is a golden hour calculator app that tells you when the golden hour time will be and how long you can expect it to last for your current location. The app also includes a brief summary of the weather at sunrise and sunset times. A notification alerts you when the golden hour is beginning, so you can drop everything and head outside with your phone. It’s beautiful in its simplicity and perfect for the hobby photographer.

Magic Hour on the App Store

The golden hour time comes twice a day, giving you plenty of time to plan some amazing photo shoots. You’ll find limitless possibilities for experimenting with your iPhone’s camera. The most important thing is to get out there at the right moment.

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