Golden hour: Waiting for that perfect glow in dog portraits

old dog walking with owners at manito park

“That’s the light I needed! Right there! GAH!”

I pointed at the TV and whimpered Wednesday night. The four last-standing Survivors were making their way to Tribal Council and the sun was setting on Fiji, casting a gorgeous golden hour glow on the beach.

Golden hour.

That was our assignment for this week’s blog circle.

Let’s get one think right (I just said that in Gordon Ramsay’s accent. Goodness, this pandemic has me watching too much TV): I am getting itchy to hang out with people and tell their stories instead of mine. I find myself dreadfully boring and uninteresting.

The truth of it all is — and brace yourselves for this one — Mother Nature can be a real bitch sometimes.

We get two opportunities a day at golden hour. It’s the first hour of light after sunrise and the last hour of light before sunset.

It casts a gorgeous, soft, warm light all over our world and it is — more often than not — the optimal time of day for photography, especially dog portraits. We aren’t fighting with a harsh sun or dark shadows.

It’s the light I had above for Jaco’s Memories session at Manito Park with his humans last fall.

A perfect golden hour is like Mother Nature giving us a big hug.

Yeah, that bitch.

Missing the perfect golden hour glow

We arose Sunday morning and stuffed a few essentials into our day packs.

Yeah, the ones that aren’t big enough to hold a camera. I treated my husband to a hike up Split Creek in Liberty Lake without my camera.

(The same trail where, last summer, Bella and I trampled through a ground hornets nest and both got stung several times.)

No holding a leash, no posing Bella, no whining about him not getting into my frame, no stopping along the way, no pretty dog portraits from our hike.

He enjoyed that.

I did, too. Maybe. OK, I don’t know. It felt weird.

We got home and started playing in the dirt. I had the last of my seedlings to get into the ground so they could start growing. I eagerly anticipate going into my backyard for fresh tomatoes, zucchini, lettuce, peppers, strawberries and what-not. We’ll have a decent harvest of Walla Walla onions and blue and Yukon potatoes in late August.

After all that hard work — a 5.5-mile hike and shoveling dirt — we sank into our deck chairs and cracked a beer. Or four. Each.

The sun set beautifully over Spokane that night and I stood in our front window, thinking, “Oops, I may have screwed this one up.”

The next day the clouds rolled in.

It’s been stormy and rainy all week.

No sunsets.

No golden hour glow.

No photo fun time.

By Wednesday, I said, “F*** it.”

I grabbed my camera and took Bella for a walk to one of the church yards in our neighborhood. This one has berms built to set up their annual Easter demonstration, Journey of the Cross.

I got Bella on one of the berms and the storm clouds behind her proved to be a magnificent backdrop.

maremma sheepdog with storm clouds in spokane valley

Stormy day

See the weather I’ve been dealing with lately?

Yeah. No golden hour glow coming for you, sister.

Faking it

Bella and I went home and I had a thought.

What if I slapped one of my orange lighting gels onto my Godox AD200? Could I fake a golden hour glow?

I mean, that’s the beauty of getting good at off-camera flash: control the light, create light, get amazing dog portraits at any time of day.

No, I couldn’t fake a golden hour glow. All I did was turn my brilliantly white girl orange.

bella squinting her eyes at an off-camera flash

Not this again


big white dog laughing

Ha ha, I’m orange


bella laughing at camera

How do you like my fake tan?


(Sidebar: If I tried going into crafts, my entire life would be a #pinterestfail. I’m sure of it.)

I like to share my #fails with you so you see the work that goes into learning my craft of photography, ever trying to bring you better, more interesting, more unique dog portraits.

Patience pays off

Ah, patience is a funny word, isn’t it?

I had no patience waiting for a lovely golden hour glow.

I cussed Mother Nature upside down and crooked every day this week. I may even have shook my fist at the sky a few times like Grampa Simpson.

I did not fall to the ground and curl up into a fetal position, holding onto my Nikon D750 and weeping.

No, really. I didn’t.

But then …

We sat down on the couch Wednesday evening, watching a Ramsay 24 Hours to Hell and Back and dining on our supper.

That night was probably my last chance for this blog post because:

  1. 5 a.m. sunrise golden hour on Thursday? Ew. No, thanks.
  2. I had to work my part-time job last night.

I threw my head over my shoulder toward the front room every so often, hoping the clouds would break as my weather app kept promising they would.


I saw it.

My heart leaped into my throat. Or was that a chunk of potato I missed while mashing?

And so it began. Every 10 minutes or so, peeping over my shoulder and hoping the clouds dispersed long enough for another couple hours.

My golden hour glow was nigh.

We finished supper and he said, “What do you want to watch now?”

Oh no, buddy. I gave you a photo-less hike on Sunday. You owe me.

No TV for a few minutes. It’s photo fun time.

I hustled Bella into the front yard and plopped her down in the garden bed, betwixt the rockfoil and whatever-the-hell-those-shrubs-are-called shrubs.

She cooperated for a fleeting moment, a lovely warm light enveloped us.

Click, treat, reposition, click, treat, reposition, click, treat.

maremma sheepdog sits in flowers and golden hour glow

My stubborn Maremma sheepdog is getting more used to it. She’s six years old.

But five minutes was enough. She darted back to the front door and turned to look at me as if to say, “It’s time for snacks, a nap and The Masked Singer. You owe me now.”

The glow was subtle to be sure and I did have to help it along a bit in Photoshop but at the very least, mission accomplished.

All around the circle

You know what’s funny about failing at creating a golden hour glow with off-camera flash and gels? It just makes me want to figure out how to do it for beautiful dog portraits.

Like maybe putting the flash behind her with a gold reflector in front? Hmmmm … things to think through.

But first, I have a black and white assignment for next week.

In the meantime, let’s see how my friends in the worldwide dog photographers blog circle tackled golden hour in unpredictable spring weather.

Start with Linda Perdue of VP Shoots Photography serving the Tampa Bay area of Florida.

Click the link at the bottom of her post to get to the next photographer, and so on until you find yourself back here.


Right where you belong.

Back to business

Folks, it’s been a long haul and it looks like dog portraits, or professional services, can be a part of Phase 2 in Gov. Jay Inslee’s reopening plan during the coronavirus pandemic.

We’re projected to hit that stage on June 1 and, if all goes well, I can take bookings!

Give me a call today and let’s get started on planning your session. I cannot wait to see you.

[su_button url=”” target=”blank” background=”#ff7200″ icon=”icon: camera” id=”Book Me Now”]BOOK ME NOW[/su_button]

13 thoughts on “Golden hour: Waiting for that perfect glow in dog portraits”

  1. Such a great blog this week. We can’t always get what we want, right? But in the end, you prevailed! Way to go, and Bella looks lovely as always!

  2. Such gorgeous photos. The top one of Jaco touched my heart. His family will treasure it, I am sure. The one with Bella and the storm clouds is awesome. I love it! And the final one of Bella in the sunset is simply beautiful. Patience does pay off. 🙂
    ps… I too enjoy Survivor! 🙂

  3. Great post! You inspired me to get outside and try catching the ‘golden hour’ to take pictures of my own two dogs. It’ll have to be before sunset because there’s no way I’ll be awake enough to get good pictures just after sunrise haha.

  4. Yes, Mother Nature seems a bit grumpy lately. We had snow last week in Ontario, and it’s a long rainy weekend here now. But, she certainly did give you a big hug for Jaco’s photo. BEAUTIFUL. I’ve been meaning to get back to photography. Thank you for this inspirational post.

  5. I ca’t imagine leaving home without my camera, but my other half gets impatient sometimes if I stop for too long, especially working out settings. I am currently trying night photography for a challenge of (of course0 every night has been cloudy so far!

  6. Your photos are gorgeous! I struggle with light and everyday photos around the house, but it’s totally worth it when you get that one amazing picture you’ve been looking for.

  7. YOU are such a trooper!!! You worked hard for that golden light haha! I do love the first image with the moody clouds – beautiful! Lovely portrait of Bella with the pink 🙂

  8. Haha awesome post. I don’t always envy professional photographers. I don’t think much about the details when I snap photos of my pets. Most of my favorite pictures of my dogs are candids I took randomly with no consideration for things like getting good lighting, etc. Your post does make me want to try going out during golden hour to see what kind of pictures I can get, though!

  9. Your posts always make me laugh (and I too think it’s weird to go somewhere without my camera – why would anyone do that? LOL). To fake the sunset, put a flash with gel behind the dog, far away, so it throws a long warm light similar to the sun and put a regular flash (no gel) on your dog – the flash in the back is meant to mimic the backlight of a setting sun, so you wouldn’t have colored light on your dog. Have fun, that’s a tough one to work, I practiced it quite a few times before I got a result I liked.

  10. Pingback: Golden Hour | Jo Lyons Photography down-to-earth dog photographer

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *