How to capture the best Golden Hour Portraits from your Smartphone

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In the world of portrait photography, one of the most desirable techniques is the Golden Hour Portrait. In case you aren’t familiar with the name, it is done around dusk when the sun gives out a golden light. The portrait itself is taken against the light, which is probably why it’s also called Backlit Portrait.

While it may be against our intuition to take portraits against the light, it is surprisingly common within professional photographers. The pictures, straight out of the camera may not look like even usable. However, with a little bit of post-processing. The picture can end up looking spectacular. Below is a comparison of the edited and the unedited images.

You can probably tell by this that editing plays an integral role in getting these types of photos. However, that does not mean the image taking process isn’t relevant. The picture that you see above is taken by a professional camera, which brings us to an inevitable problem. Not everyone has a professional camera. Does that mean they can’t capture good Golden Hour portraits?

Well, no. And how, you may ask? The answer is smartphones. I can’t emphasize enough when I say that smartphone cameras have come a long way, to the point where, in certain circumstances, they can replace DSLRs. This happens to be one of those circumstances. All you need is a smartphone with a good camera and you’ll be able to get surprising results. Here’s what you need to do.

Things You’ll Need

  • Smartphone: Now a regular smartphone with a simple camera app will also do. However, it is preferred that it has a Pro Mode in the app that allows manual controls. It would also be super helpful if your camera app allows capturing pictures in a raw format. Raw image files are much better for editing, as it is an import part of our procedure.
  • Image Editing Application: If you’re going to edit your masterpiece, it’s essential that you have a competent editing app. While there are a billion out there that you might think are good. However, for this particular application, I’d recommend either Adobe Lightroom or Snapspeed. Both of these offer Raw file support, both are available on iOS and Android, and the latter of them is completely free.

Taking the Picture

  • The first step is your camera settings. If your camera app doesn’t allow for any changes then you can skip this step. However, in case you do have options, the first priority should be to capture in Raw. After that, there’s no hard and fast rule for precise camera settings. Just make sure the background isn’t too overexposed and the subject isn’t too underexposed.
    Note: You can use portrait mode, however, do keep in mind that the lighting is tricky and the algorithm may mess up detecting the edges. You’re always welcome to experiment and see if it works for you. In case it does, do use it.
  • The next step is framing the shot perfectly. We’ve already established that the picture is to be taken against the light. In this particular case of backlit photography, our light source is the sun just before it’s about to set. Make sure your subject is directly in front of it. The sun shouldn’t be visible in the picture as it might overexpose the background a little too much. You’ll need to have the artifacts in the background visible otherwise it won’t be an interesting picture.
  • With everything set up the way it should, take the picture. This procedure can be done handheld (using tripods for portraits like this isn’t recommended) which means you have the ability to take multiple shots while slightly changing the angle. Take as many shots as you can and then later you can examine which ones are better than others.

Editing the Picture

When you’ve taken the picture, you’re only halfway done. The next step is editing. Again, there’s no hard and fast rule in editing as everyone has their own taste. You do, however, need to keep some tips in mind for this part. They are as follows:

  • Bring up the Shadows and bring down the Highlights. This will ensure that the subject isn’t underexposed and the background isn’t overexposed.
  • Make the image warmer with the White Balance slider. This gives an overall warmer look, which is essential in Golden Hour Photography.
  • Fiddle with the Hues of each individual color and try to bring it closer to Yellow or Orange as these are the primary colors that you’d want in the final image.
  • Don’t go overboard with the Contrast or Sharpness/Clarity. Pictures like these are meant to be a little softer. It’s not necessary to highlight each and every detail.

With everything taken care of the way it should, you’ll end up with an amazing Golden Hour portrait that’ll be perfect for posting on Instagram. It’s okay if you don’t nail it in the first attempt. Just like every other tutorial, I’ll say that practice makes perfect.

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