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Faking Golden Hour in Adobe Lightroom


We’re told time and time again in landscape photography – there’s only two times each day when you can successfully shoot a landscape! The golden hour in the morning and again in the evening are these times, but when we’re out on the road trying desperately to cram so many awesome locations into our tight schedules it’s not always practical and we have to carefully choose where we are every day for sunrise and sunset. I’m a firm believer that it’s important to know what the rules are so that we can best break them! So here’s my tutorial on faking a golden hour landscape, breaking the rules appropriately to achieve the best shot.

In this tutorial we’ll take this image from Yosemite Park, which was taken about as far away from golden hour as you can get at 1pm, and we’ll make it look like the early morning sun is bathing it in golden light.


Golden hour gives your image characteristics that are vastly different to the flat and cold midday light we can see in this image. There is usually wild contrast and warmth, so that’s what we’ll emulate in Adobe Lightroom.

The first step is to open up our image and leave all the sliders alone! All of them!


We need to get that sky looking more like that which we get during golden hour. That for me is bright and radiant. To do this we need to use the Radial Filter (Shift+M) and the settings to use are the maximum exposure, so 4 over, and a nice yellow or orange colour. We also need to invert the mask to have the brightness radiate from the circle, rather than into it. Make a large circle in the sky with the Radial Filter and let it overexpose the scene like this, ensuring you have feathering up high to keep it looking as natural as possible.


When we’re done with this mask we can leave it by clicking the Radial Filter (Shift+M) and start looking at other aspects of our scene. Next up is to balance the rest of the image with the massive amount of light we’ve just put in, and we need to warm up the overall scene. To do this we need to use the Exposure slider to darken things a bit. I’ve pulled the slider down to -2.3 to really let things go into shadow, much like you’d expect to see in early morning light. To warm up the tones we need to raise the Temperature slider to a nice warm position – I’ve gone for 7627k in this case. As with all retouching, bear in mind that the sliders should usually be used conservatively. Take it up and down little by little until you reach the best look for the image.


Next up we can give the scenery a sun kissed feel by using our Adjustment Brush (K) to paint in some light bathing the landscape. Have all the sliders set to zero except for the Exposure – which we’ll put at around 1 stop over. With the brush just go over select areas of the image, clicking spots or painting areas with light. This fantastic effect gives the impression that the light is cast on the scene just like during golden hour.


The next step for this technique is to adjust the clarity and contrast to create an even more convincing look for our fake golden hour. This contrast is something matched in a real golden hour shot, and the clarity further adds to it’s definition. With careful adjustment we can add to the realism of the scene.


Our finishing touch is to further warm up the image, specifically attacking the highlights. To do this we’ll use the Split Toning tool. With the highlights adjustment in Split Toning, select a nice warm colour from the Hue slider, and then gradually increase the Saturation slider until we have a nice extra bit of warmth added.


And that’s it! Our landscape scene that we shot in the middle of the day has been transformed into a work of golden hour art thanks to Adobe Lightroom.


Be sure to share this tutorial, and show me what you create with it.

About Dave Williams (10 Articles)
Dave Williams uses the alias Hybrid Dave. He is a travel and lifestyle photographer and retoucher based in London, UK

2 Comments on Faking Golden Hour in Adobe Lightroom

  1. 100% professional post.

  2. Thanks Amzad, glad you like it

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