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How I Nailed the Shot: Golden Hour On the Road

Golden hour—that magical period right before sunset (or after sunrise) where everything glows in soft, warm light. Unlike what so many photos suggest, you don’t necessarily have to drive out to the countryside or seaside to get an amazing photo of it. One photographer shares how he captured this shot while on the road. (Reported by: Haruki)

Evening golden hour on the road

EOS 5D Mark III/ EF70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM/ FL: 120mm/ Aperture-priority AE (f/11, 1/3,200 sec, EV±0)/ ISO 400/ WB: Flash use

I chanced upon this sunset while on the road back to my lodgings one evening in Australia. The intense golden tones of the western sky as well as the cars heading homeward all suggest the idea of the end of yet another day. 


Step 1: Use a long focal length to neaten the composition

This photo was taken from the front passenger seat. I wanted to compose a shot with the following elements:

- The distance between the vehicle I was in and the car in front (the main subject of interest), and
- The surrounding scenery (including the sun and traffic lights)

To make the composition work, I chose a moderate telephoto focal length of 120mm. This would draw in the sky and the sun just enough to give them a moderate amount of visual weight, and also prevent the image from getting too cluttered. The compression effect made the distance between the cars and the sky look perfect.


Lens used: EF70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM

EF70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM

When traveling long distances, you can only take so much equipment with you. For a versatile lens option, choose a zoom lens. This telephoto zoom lens provides an amazing close-up effect up to focal length 300mm, which is great for a wide variety of scenes.

You might be interested in:
What is the difference between a 200mm and 300mm telephoto lens?


Step 2: Use a fast shutter speed and narrow aperture

As I was shooting a moving subject (the car in front) while on a moving vehicle, I had to use a very fast shutter speed to ensure a sharp image. I also wanted the entire shot to be in focus all the way to the palm tree in the background.

Thus, I used f/11 in Aperture-priority AE mode, which gave me a shutter speed of 1/3,200 second. This was a good balance between depth-of-field and shutter speed, achieving a sharp shot with no visible camera shake.


Behind the scenes illustration

Photographing from the front passenger seat
The distance to the car in front was approximately 20m to 30m. Seated at the front passenger seat of a minivan, which was slightly higher compared to that of the car ahead of us, I had my telephoto lens ready and waited for the right opportunity to release the shutter.


Step 3: Use WB ‘Flash’ to intensify the golden tones

The highlight of this image is the golden sunset and how it baths everything in its warm glow. To better convey the dramatic tones than I saw before me, I chose the ‘Flash use’ white balance setting, which intensifies yellow tones. You could also use ‘Cloudy’ or ‘Shade’, but ‘Flash use’ (or ‘Flash’ on some cameras) gives the strongest effect.


What not to use: AWB

Failed shot using AWB

The Auto White Balance (AWB) setting neutralizes the warm tones, resulting in an image that does not quite convey the magic of the golden hour.

For more tips on photographing in the evening, check out:
Conveying the Evening Through Lights and Shadows
Decisions in Landscape Photography: Morning or Evening?


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Born in 1959 in Hiroshima, Haruki is a photographer and visual director. He graduated from the Faculty of Fine Arts, Kyushu Sangyo University, and is mainly engaged in activities related to portrait works for media including advertisements, magazines and music.