The longest day falls on 20 June this year, marking the moment when the sun reaches its highest point in the sky and appears to stand still. This natural phenomenon has been celebrated in many ways over the centuries – from the pagan custom of jumping over bonfires, to feasts and dancing.

For a slightly more modern twist in 2020, why not use the extra daylight to celebrate nature in all its glory by brushing up on your ‘golden hour’ photography skills?

Here the National Trust and professional photographer Justin Minns share some top tips and techniques for capturing sunset and sunrise photos. Not only will these help you get those perfect solstice shots around your local area, but you’ll also be ready to capture spectacular travel-memento photos once we’re allowed to roam further afield again.

What is ‘Golden Hour’?

In photography the ‘golden hour’ refers to the period of time just after sunrise or just before sunset. At this point the sun is low in the sky and the light it gives off is much softer than it would be at midday, producing a warm glow that is fantastic for photography.

In scientific terms this happens because when the sun is near the horizon, the light it gives off has to pass through more atmosphere to reach us. This scatters more of the blue portion of the light spectrum, while the warm red portion is less affected. The low angle of the sun also softens shadows and reduces contrast.

Tips from the pros

Justin Minns is an award-winning professional photographer who, when he’s not travelling the world, regularly photographs National Trust landscapes around his home region of East Anglia.

“Early mornings are my favourite time to be out capturing photos,” says Justin. “The light can be magical as it slowly spreads its warmth across the sleeping landscape bringing everything, including my photos, to life.”

Here Justin shares his tips for capturing that perfect Golden Hour shot – many of which can be applied whether you’re shooting on a DSLR or just using your phone camera.

Turn to the side

Dunwich Heath ©National Trust Images Justin Minns

Side light – when the sun shines across the picture from either side – is great for bringing out shape and texture in the landscape. It’s especially effective at golden hour when the sun is low. It’s an easy technique, just stand somewhere where the light is to one side of you and your subject and let the light work its magic.

Warm it up

Hatfield Forest ©National Trust Images Justin Minns

If your camera has a white balance control, setting it to cloudy will make the colours appear warmer and help bring out those golden hour tones. If you are using a phone camera there should be a filter to achieve a similar look.

Long shadows

Ashridge ©National Trust Images Justin Minns

The low angle of the sun at golden hour creates long shadows, which you can use for dramatic effect. Try it at the beach: stand with the sun behind you and include your shadow stretching out across the sand in the photo. It also works well in woodland: hide the sun behind one of the trees and their shadows will radiate out towards you in bold lines.

Great Cameras to Take the perfect picture

Use silhouettes

©National Trust Images Justin Minns

A simple but dramatic golden hour technique is to create a silhouette. Set the camera so that the sky is properly exposed, and everything else will appear as a dark shape. It works best with a simple, easily identifiable subject such as a windmill or a single tree.

Make it sparkle

Wimpole Hall

Usually I would avoid shooting towards the sun, but in golden hour when the sun is low, you can create an effect known as a sunstar, when the sun will appear as a star shape. To get this effect, set your camera’s aperture to a high number (f/16 – f/22 is ideal) and make the sun as small as possible by partially hiding it behind something – a tree, the horizon or even a person.

Make the most of the longest day

Why not make the most of the extra hours of daylight by trying the National Trust’s family-friendly tips for a dawn to dusk nature adventure? Find out if you’re a night owl or morning lark, go on a dawn safari in your back garden, learn how to attract twilight-loving moths to your garden using an old bedsheet and a torch, plus much more.

*Lead image Wicken Fen ©National Trust Images Justin Minns