Can You Fake Golden Hour?

by | Mar 11, 2022 | Tips & Tricks | 1 comment

I was going through my archives today, looking for example photos for some new training material. And I came across this simple, well-composed shot taken in pretty much the middle of the day.

060512_James Staddon_4978 Canon EOS 20D, 24 mm, 1-200 sec at f - 9.0, ISO 100

It’s a grand-looking photo because, yeah, it’s literally the Grand Canyon!

But the lighting is just blah.

So I thought, “I wonder if I could fake golden hour!”

I’ve been learning about how to use Lightroom’s new Color Grading tool, and thought this would be a good opportunity to play with it. I spent a looooong time, trying to tweak and make it look perfect. I had almost a dozen renditions. Finally, this was what I came up with.

It definitely looks more like golden hour, but to me, it looked like there was still something fake-looking about it.

I sent it to a friend to ask them what they thought.

How does the brain do it, every time?!

The brain just knows there’s something wrong with it. No, I didn’t Photoshop in the background, but I did change the time of day, and our brains can just pick up on those kind of things.

So, why does it look fake?

I’m sure I could go into a long explanation, but the long and short of it is: the highlights, shadows and direction of light just don’t match up. It literally looks otherworldly.

So, I went back to the drawing board. How do I edit this photo? Do I just forget about it? Do I just make it black & white? Well I still wanted to see if I could still find a useful way to use Color Grading, so I kept playing with it.

And you know what I came up?

A photo that speaks “desert heat” instead of “golden hour”.

Desert Heat
Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
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It was a kind of revelation to me. I still used the Color Grading tool. I still completely changed the the story of the photo. But the edits I made to it look natural because its natural design, its fundamental makeup, was accepted and the foundation from which all editing choices were made. I suppose I should have thought about that before spending all that time trying to make it look like something it really wasn’t. Mark 10:6.

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1 Comment

  1. William Frazer

    Really good lesson, and particularly good application at the end, James!
    Thanks for posting!


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