One of the most common questions that professional photographers get asked is what the best time of day to take outdoor photos is. The answer, of course, depends on what you are trying to achieve with your photography. Here is a breakdown of some things to consider when deciding on the best time of day for photography.
Take advantage of easy light in the morning
One of the most popular times to take photos is in the morning when the light is soft and diffuse. This type of easy light can be perfect for shooting landscapes and outdoor portraits, as it tends to highlight subtle nuances in color and texture.
If you are looking to take advantage of this type of easy light, try heading out early in the day, before the sun has had a chance to climb too high in the sky. This will ensure that your images will have even lighting across the entire frame, without harsh shadows or highlights.
Another thing to keep in mind when shooting in the morning is that the early hours tend to offer fewer distractions than later on in the day. Whether it’s people walking their dogs or commuters on their way to work, early morning hours tend to be a bit quieter and more peaceful, making them an ideal time for taking photos.
Be careful with how you use the harsh high noon sun
While the harsh midday sun can create some interesting shadows and contrast, it can also be a bit tricky to work with. If you’re not careful, you can end up with photos that are overexposed or have too much contrast.
If you do decide or need to shoot in the middle of the day, one of the best things you can do is to put the sun behind your subject. This will help to evenly distribute the light and avoid any hot spots or blown-out highlights. You can also try using a reflector to bounce some light back onto your subject and fill in any shadows.
Another thing to keep in mind when shooting in the harsh midday sun is to be aware of how the light is falling across your subject. If you are shooting a person, for example, be careful to avoid lighting your subject’s face with direct sunlight from above. The natural shape of their face will create dark, unflattering shadows in the eyes and forehead while the highlights will accentuate their nose – not ideal. Instead, try positioning them so that the sun is again at their side or even behind them. You could even have them lay down or look up so that the direction of light on their faces is more flattering.
Golden hour offers a beautiful warmth and soft glow
The golden hour is a time when the sun creates a natural light that’s excellent for portrait photography, which is why some refer to it as magic hour. It provides creative control and offers great light to shoot just about any other type of scene, from landscape photography or cityscapes to outdoor events – like weddings! The photographer has less competition than other times during these hours so they can take advantage by using special equipment if needed with little draw attention away from their subject matter.
Use the last hour of daylight to your advantage:
- Arrive Early: One of the most important parts of shooting during golden hour is to arrive early. This gives you time to set up, scout out your location, and get everything ready before the light starts getting good. Depending on the time of year and daylight savings, sunset times could be as early as 4 pm or as late as 8 pm. You can track this with most weather apps, but I prefer Dark Sky.
- Best for Portraits & Landscapes: One of the best times to shoot portraits is during golden hour. The natural light is soft and flattering and because the sun is low your lovely subjects won’t have to squint. Golden hour is also a great time to shoot landscape photos. The warm light and long shadows create some stunning images.
- Utilize Shadows & Light Direction: Another great thing about shooting during golden hour is that you can use the shadows and light direction to your advantage. The long shadows can add drama and interest to your photos, and the warm light can create a beautiful glow.
5 Different ways to use the sunset’s light:
- Key Light: The key light is the main source of light in a photograph and typically falls on the subject’s most important side. You’re positioning the sun in front of, or preferably slightly off-center from your subject. This lights your subject with beautiful, warm, flattering light and pairs well with darker backgrounds.
- Side Light: For a more dramatic look, position the sun to your subject’s side. This creates shadows on one side and highlights on the other, resulting in a more moody look. It can be made less intense if you position the shadow side next to the surface to act as a fill light, such as a white wall, which will reflect the sunlight (keep in mind the light reflected will be tinted the color of the wall).
- Rim Light: My FAVORITE way to use the sunset, rim lighting is when the sun is positioned at an angle behind your subject and lights up their hair, shoulders, and back. This creates a beautiful halo of light, adding drama and dimension to your portrait. Remember to expose for the skin tones, since average metering will be skewed by the brightness of the sun.
- Backlighting: Backlighting is when the sun is positioned directly behind your subject and you’re shooting into the sunset. This can be used to great effect in your portraits, but be careful not to blow out your subject’s features. You can try using a reflector or diffuser to bounce some light back onto their face or position them so that they’re standing in front of a natural reflector.
- Sun Flare: You can also use the sun itself as an artistic element by intentionally introducing flare into your photos. This is done by pointing your camera’s lens directly at the sun to create a lens flare. This can add an ethereal, dreamy quality to your photos.
- Silhouette: Finally, one of the most dramatic ways to use the sunset’s light is to create a silhouette. This is done by positioning your subject in front of the sun so that they’re backlit, and then underexposing the photo so that their features are obscured by darkness. This can be a really striking way to shoot a portrait and can be used to great effect in landscape photos as well. It’s important that the action of your main subjects is well defined and that all of their features have negative space around them.
The golden hour offers some amazing lighting options, but also has its challenges. The biggest challenge is that the light is constantly changing, so you have to be quick and adaptable. Be prepared to shoot fast, and be willing to move around and change up your compositions on the fly. Despite having great dynamic range, the other challenge is that the sun is very bright, so you have to be careful not to blow out your highlights. But with a little practice, you’ll be able to master shooting during golden hour in no time!
Embrace dramatic colors during blue hour
Blue hour is a magical time for photography. Commonly referred to as dusk or twilight, it often lasts only 10-15 minutes after the sun goes. The world takes on a whole new look, with muted colors and an ethereal quality. It’s the perfect time to shoot cityscapes, landscapes, and portraits. Here are some tips for shooting during blue hour:
Use a tripod: Because blue hour lighting is so low, you’ll need to use a tripod to avoid camera shake while shooting at a slower shutter speed and to maintain a low ISO. Keep in mind that long exposure times also require your subject to stay still.
Bring a video light or flash: By using another light source to illuminate your subjects you have a lot more creative control over the scene. You can dial in for ambient light to bring in deep dark saturated tones while properly lighting your subjects. With a warm light source you can bring out even more blue, and with a green light source you can even bring out deep purples and magentas, all by adjusting your white balance for the skin tones.
Find a good vantage point: Look for a spot with a great view of the cityscape or landscape you’re shooting. If you’re shooting portraits, find a spot with interesting lighting and background.
Be Prepared and Be Fast: Because the light only lasts a few minutes before fading into night, you’ll have to be ready to capture it quickly. Keep your camera settings dialed in and plan out what kind of shots you want ahead of time so that you can move quickly once the sun dips below the horizon.
The key to taking great photos during blue hour is experimentation and practice. Keep pushing yourself to find new ways of seeing the world, and you’ll be rewarded with stunning images every time!
Nighttime is great for mood and creativity
There’s something about the darkness of night that just feels different. It’s a time when the world is asleep and there’s a stillness in the air. As someone who loves night photography, I always find myself drawn to the moody and atmospheric quality that the darkness of night provides. There’s just something about it that feels really unique and interesting, making it perfect for capturing striking portraits or fashion shots.
If you’re looking for great photos at night, there are a few things to keep in mind. First, make sure that you have the necessary gear and equipment. You’ll need fast lenses with a wide aperture to let in as much light as possible, so your camera can see clearly even in low lighting conditions. Additionally, consider investing in image stabilization or tripods to help ensure that your images stay sharp and clear.
Another important consideration is composition. When shooting at night, try to find interesting subjects and angles that play with shadow and light. Look for unique subjects like architectural details or urban landscapes at dusk, when everything looks both beautiful and mysterious. Also, think about how the movement will come into play – moving cars or street lights can add a sense of motion to your images while capturing still moments can be equally powerful.
One more great thing about shooting at night and in other low-light scenarios, like some indoors, is that you have the opportunity to shape your own light and the time to do so. Your not waiting for the sun and sky to shift into a different position.
Weather Conditions: Sunny Days vs Overcast Days
There are pros and cons to shooting in both sunny and overcast weather conditions. Sunny days are great for capturing bright and vibrant colors but can be more challenging because the poor natural direction of light can create dark unflattering shadows. Overcast days tend to be more muted, but provide softer lighting.
For portraits, many photographers prefer a cloudy day because the soft light is easier to work with and a poor direction of light is more forgiving.
I personally have to shoot in such a variety of light situations that I make due and try to be as creative as I can given the provided light. If I’m in harsh light, I try to change the direction or use fill to soften shadows. If I’m in open shade or cloud cover I’m still considering the direction of light because I want the best quality of light on my subject’s faces. However, I may look for additional light sources to try and add more interest to the scene.
Reach out if you have any questions about the best time of day for photography!
While there is no definitive answer to the question of what the best time of day to take photos is, understanding the different factors that affect how your photos will turn out can help you make better choices when it comes to shooting during different times of day. The best way to improve your understanding of light and figure which styles you prefer is to shoot a lot at different times of day and in many different situations. If you’re still not sure what time of day will give you the results you’re looking for, get in touch and we would be happy to help!