- Best Time of Day for Outdoor Photography - Portraits
- Best Time of Day for Outdoor Photography - Landscapes
- Best Time of Day for Outdoor Photography - Architecture
- Where Are We?
- Workflow Tips for Outdoor Photography - Making It Easier
- Bonus: What Is Golden Hour?
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photo by Madzia71 via iStock
When contemplating what is the best time of day for outdoor photography, several factors deserve consideration. These factors include what we’re photographing, where we are, and what our desired final result is.
So, let’s break these down and also look for a few workflow tips.
Since the time of day for best outdoor photography is often very fluid, smoothing out our workflow can be a great asset.
Table of Contents
Best Time of Day for Outdoor Photography - Portraits
photo by Ababsolutum via iStock
Oftentimes, the best time of day for outdoor photography of people is whenever those people are outside. We can’t always control the time of day we are out with a group, and it turns into an informal portrait shoot. Sort of like an impromptu portrait session. But if we’re planning ahead of time for outdoor portraits, we can set up for the best time of day for outdoor photography.
When the sun is high in the sky is when a lot of fun happens, but that type of lighting can be problematic for taking pictures of people. The main reason is the directionality of the sunlight. Strong overhead light causes shadows that are generally a bit unflattering.
Those deep shadows under the nose, the chin, and with some people, their eye sockets or brow ridge, are the problematic thing. So, if we are stuck with that time of day, using a collapsible reflector can be helpful. A good strap solution is beneficial as well. (More on this in a moment.)
photo by triloks via iStock
If I have any control of the timing for an outdoor portrait photoshoot, I find that the best time of day for outdoor photography is early mid-morning or later mid-afternoon. With the sun shining at an angle, the harsh shadows underneath facial features are lessened, plus it allows me to try out several lighting techniques such as side lighting, backlighting, and fill flash.
You can even have two lights outdoors if you use a reflector. The sun becomes the primary or key light, and the reflector is the secondary or fill light. This technique works extremely well during Golden Hour, which is what many portrait photographers see as the best time of day for outdoor photography.
Best Time of Day for Outdoor Photography - Landscapes
photo by Eric Mischke via iStock
Looking for the best time of day for photography of landscapes has many of the same issues as portrait photography, and for pretty much the same reasons. Strong, direct, overhead lighting isn’t all that flattering to a nice scenic view either.
For certain scenes, though, high noon can be a good choice. It all depends on what we’re trying to accomplish. If we want to show how lush a forest canopy is or how white the sand of a beach is, then the midday sun will work quite well. Our camera position will need to be optimized in order to take advantage of that light condition, so scouting and zooming with our feet comes into play.
The lower the sun is in the sky, the more depth can be created or enhanced by how we place our camera position in relation to the direction of the sunlight within our desired scene. Golden Hour and the related Blue Hour are good candidates for the best time of day for photography of the great outdoors because of the unique qualities of the light at those times.
Best Time of Day for Outdoor Photography - Architecture
photo by francescoch via iStock
Architectural photography is where we can really have some fun with shadows during different times of the day. Because the best time of day for photography of buildings and other forms of architecture depends heavily on our ability to make the shadows and highlights work for us.
I really enjoy planning for and exposing for the highlights, midtones, and shadows with the thought of processing into black & white. Once you start playing around with your post-processing program’s B&W tools, you’ll start seeing your subjects in that glorious monochromatic view, even if the scene is full of red, green, and bright yellow.
photo by filipe_lopes via iStock
In fact, photographing a very colorful building or area actually gives you more to play with when adjusting the image into a black and white architectural photograph. You might find it interesting to look for some older photography books from the era when film was king (it really wasn’t that long ago, was it?). If you have access, go to your local library and browse through the photography annuals from the 50s and 60s for inspiration.
So, the best time of day for outdoor photography of architectural subjects will depend heavily on how much shadowplay you want and even if you’re capturing images for the end result in color or black & white. That may well be high noon, right at sunrise or sunset, or during Golden Hour.
Where are We?
photo by FreshSplash via iStock
I’m tempted to wax metaphysical with an inspirational post of “where are we in our photographic journey, where are we going…?” but maybe I’ll save that for later. (insert a wink smiley)
What I mean by “where are we?” is actually all about our physical location. We can include the time of year in this section as well.
The latitude of our location and the season we’re in will have an effect on how high the sun is in the sky. So, the best time of day for outdoor photography will have a great amount of variation depending on those factors as well as what type of photography you’re doing and what your desired end result is.
The only real solution for finding out the best time of day for photography you are doing is to simply get out there and start taking some pictures. Especially since so many of us are using digital imaging, we can take advantage of the ease of storage and viewing digital files and just start shooting to see what works.
photo by silverkblack via iStock
I like to stress in my classes that not every frame we shoot needs to be a fantastic work of art. Sometimes, we shoot for “ideas” and for learning what works and what doesn’t.
So, as a homework assignment of sorts, decide on a genre of outdoor photography and then take some photos at different times of the day and in various locations and perspectives or vantage points of those areas. And then compare. Try out a lot of things, look on your favorite websites or social media apps for those types of images, compare what others have done with what’s going on in your area.
Workflow Tips for Outdoor Photography - Making It Easier
Since we’re outside, things can change rather quickly. Clouds can obscure the sun, light changes rapidly closer to sunrise and sunset, people and things can move around, too. So, you want to stay as ready as possible while shooting outdoors in what you decided was your personal best time of day for outdoor photography.
I find that having two cameras ready to go with different lenses is a great workflow solution to being ready to capture the right shot at the right time. An alternative I find myself using often is a harness-style double strap. I can trade out one camera for a lens bag if I want to change up from having two cameras out.
One of the best straps for outdoor photography is the Holdfast Camera Swagg double camera harness-style strap. It’s a strap patterned after their hugely popular, heavy-duty, leather MoneyMaker, but designed to be lighter weight and also made from non animal products. In fact, it’s totally vegan, which may be a huge bonus for many outdoor photographers who prefer that style.
Holdfast Camera Swagg is incredibly versatile and offers an extreme level of camera security, another important consideration for outdoor photography. Made from heavy duty cotton canvas and strong metal, this strap is an awesome workflow solution, making things easier for shooting. It won’t make you a better artist, but at least you’ll be comfortable, at ease, and ready to capture those artistic images.
Bonus: What Is Golden Hour?
photo by Sladic via iStock
I’ve mentioned Golden Hour several times as we talked about the best time of day for outdoor photography. So, what is it? Golden Hour is when the sun is low in the sky but without having all of the extra colors of actual sunrise or sunset.
It’s generally a warmer light than most other times of day and it’s also somewhat diffused by passing through more of the atmosphere. So, it’s a flattering light for many subjects from people to places to buildings. For many people, it’s hands down the best time of day for outdoor photography, but choose for yourself and with each specific subject and desired result in mind.
Try out several ideas, including post-processing into black and white or perhaps using HDR bracketing and merging techniques, which we’ve discussed several times in our real estate photography articles. You’ll have fun, you’ll learn, you’ll create art, all by shooting at the best time of day for outdoor photography.