There’s nothing quite like taking pictures outside. No matter which of the different types of photography is your favorite or what subjects you love to photograph, there’s something about natural light that just can’t be replicated in a studio. Whether you like shooting portraits, landscapes, or anything in between, you’ll want to know what the best time to take pictures of your subjects is. A great photographer should definitely have a handle on what to expect when shooting outside at different times of day and in different conditions.
Shooting in the best available light will ensure that the images featured in your online photography portfolio are as gorgeous as possible. They’ll make people feel like they were out there with you, and hopefully help you land some paid photography jobs!
The best time to take pictures outside will depend on what look you’re going for in your outdoor pictures. We know that’s going to vary depending on what your photography project is, so get those ideas churning and read on to find out when the best time is for you to get out there and shoot.
Golden Hour Photography
You’ve probably heard photographers go on and on about how incredible the golden hour is for taking outdoor pictures. Lots of people consider this the best time of day to take pictures, and there is definitely a lot to love about it! As the old saying goes, when the sun goes down, a thousand Instagrams go up.
So, when exactly is the golden hour? It’s usually defined as the period shortly after sunrise or before sunset. At these times, the sun is quite low in the sky, so the natural light is super-soft and flattering. It also gives off a warm reddish hue. It’s one of the best times to take pictures, especially if you’re shooting portraits.
People look best when the shadows on their face are soft and diffused, and golden hour photos achieve this without much effort or extra equipment. The warm light is also universally flattering, so your subjects are bound to love how they look, which is important if you want to avoid an unhappy photography client!
If you’re a landscape photographer, the golden hour can offer some of the best outdoor lighting for pictures, if that warm hue is what you’re after. Certain scenes, like the canyons of the southwestern USA, are practically begging to be photographed during the golden hour.
Challenges Of The Golden Hour
As gorgeous as this time of day is, it does have its challenges for photographers, too. A few things you should consider about shooting during sunrise or sunset lighting are:
- Lighting conditions are fleeting. Since the sun is rapidly ascending or descending, you might find that the lighting conditions change too quickly. If you need more time to adjust your subjects or explore a location, the golden hour might not actually be ideal. For example, if you’re shooting a subject who is not particularly comfortable in front of the camera, the best light might be gone before you’re able to get that perfect shot.
- It might not complement your subject. Shooting right around sunrise or sunset can introduce some really intense colours into the background of your image. If you’re trying to shoot a sunset, that’s great. But if you’re shooting anything else, the blaring colours might actually draw the eye away from your subject, which isn’t ideal. You don’t want to overpower the main subject of your photograph, after all.
- It can be at an inconvenient time of day. Depending on where you are in the world and what time of year it is, the golden hour might be way before most people want to wake up, or too late to be convenient. Sure, your portrait clients might look amazing in this lighting, but getting them up at the crack of dawn might not be a feasible option. Running a successful portrait photography business means keeping these things in mind.
- It might be hard to fill shadows on your subjects face. Usually a reflector will do the trick, but if the sun is very low, it can be hard catch that light on the reflector.
A good remedy to these challenges? Try shooting a few hours after the morning golden hour or before the evening golden hour. This is one of the best times of day for photos because you will get some of the gorgeous effects of the golden hour without having to worry as much about the challenges.
Basically, as long as the sun is low in the sky, your outdoor pictures will benefit from a softer light and a pleasant glow. Bonus: your subjects don’t have to squint for the whole shoot. For a soft, romantic glow, the hours around golden hour probably take the win when it comes to the best time to take pictures.
Mid-Morning and Afternoon Outdoor Pictures
Context definitely matters when deciding on the best time to take pictures. If you’re shooting corporate headshots, maybe that romantic glow isn’t exactly appropriate for the task at hand. In that case, you might find that mid-morning and afternoon (avoiding high noon) is the best time to take outdoor photos.
Since the sun isn’t directly above your subject, you won’t have to worry too much about harsh shadows that look super unflattering. Compared to the reddish, orange hues of sunset lighting, shooting before and after noon will produce a more yellow light. This is one of the best times to take pictures because it still flatters a lot of skin tones. You can also use a silver or white reflector if you want to make the light a little bit less yellow, or a gold reflect if you want to warm up your subject’s complexion.
If you’re just going for an urban photo walk, this is one of the best times of day to take photos, since the light will be nice and even. Even if you’re not a total pro when it comes to manual camera settings, your auto setting will have no trouble producing a beautiful, clear, nicely lit image. Mid-morning and mid-afternoon are great times of day to shoot from the hip.
Outdoor Pictures at High Noon
High noon is definitely not considered the best time of day to take pictures outside by most photographers, but, believe it or not, it has its merits! Although it’s not going to be the choice time of day for a wedding photographer, an urban landscape photographer will absolutely love the hard shadows. They can lend a really dramatic and look to a photo, which isn’t always a bad thing. If you want a crystal-clear shot of a body of water, noon is the best time of day to take pictures.
Even if you are shooting portraits at noon, there are ways to avoid having very hard shadows on your subjects face. The key is to fill those shadows somehow. You can, of course, use a reflector if you have on handy.
If you don’t, try to find something reflective in your surroundings. A subject seated at a light-colored table might have enough reflection from that table to look nice and evenly lit. Something like a light-colored wall or, if, you’re at the beach, the sand could also do the trick. Keep an eye out for shadowy areas as well, since they might be the most flattering places to position your subject.
This might not be the best outdoor lighting for pictures, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make the most it! Plus, if you’re going for a very high-contrast look, there’s no better time than high noon to achieve it. Embracing the hard light photography conditions of noontime shooting will challenge you and possibly produce some of your most creative shots.
Shooting During the Blue Hour
Everyone talks about the golden hour, but you don’t hear the blue hour mentioned as much. So what is it, exactly? The blue hour occurs right before sunrise, and right after sunset. It’s the time when the sun is behind the horizon, but there is still some ambient light to work with. You can think of it as dawn and dusk.
As the name suggests, your photos will have a bluish tone if you shoot at these times of day. It’s very brief, so you’ll have to move quickly and know what you want to shoot, but it is absolutely one of the best times for outdoor photos.
Shooting during blue hour gives a quality of peace and stillness to photos, especially if you can shoot during the morning blue hour when you’ll be able to capture outdoor scenes before they’re filled with people. It’s of the best times to take pictures of winter scenes—they’ll look amazing shot during this time day, and you can capture some seriously National Geographic-worthy pictures of water during this time of day, too… If you can find a location where lights are reflected in water, such as homes on a lakeside, they will make a gorgeous subject for the blue hour.
Cityscapes lend themselves really well to blue-hour photography, too. It’s one of the best times of day for photos of urban scenes because most of the artificial lights that illuminate cities have a yellow hue, and the contrast between the ambient blue and the urban yellow lights is very photogenic.
If you’re into painting with light, this is the best time to do it. You’ll have to get used to night photography settings if you want to make the most of blue hour, but it’s well worth it!
If you’re wondering when exactly you should get getting out there to catch the golden hour and blue hour, there are tons of apps out there that can help you out. PhotoPills is a cool option that will tell you things like the rising and setting times of the sun and the moon, so you can plan your outdoor pictures accordingly. (Want more cool apps? Check out our list of the best landscape photography apps.)
Outdoor Pictures on a Cloudy Day
So far, we’ve been assuming that you’ll be shooting in clear conditions, not matter what time of day it is. Of course, no matter where you live, it definitely won’t be clear all the time or even most of the time. So, what’s the best time for photography on a cloudy day?
The clouds will diffuse the sun’s rays no matter what time of day it is, so you won’t notice as much of a difference as the sun moves through the sky. There also won’t be as much of a noticeable golden hour. This may not sound like the best time to take pictures outside, but the benefit is that you won’t get any harsh shadows and the lighting will probably stay consistent throughout your shoot.
If you can look for bursts of light, you might actually capture some really interesting shots that you wouldn’t be able to get on a totally clear day. You’d be amazed what a difference a reflector can make on a cloudy day.
If you want to get creative, the clouds themselves can become part of your shot, too. Embrace the grey! Remember, with the right photo editing skills, the best monitor for photo editing and good editing software, you can also bring some warmth back into images that were taken on a less than a sunny day.
Shooting During Night Time
Depending on what you want to capture, the best time to take photos outside may actually be—surprise!—night time. Night photography is a whole different animal, and you’ll have to get quite comfortable with using the manual settings on your camera, but there are certain outdoor pictures you can capture at night that you just can’t shoot during the day.
Since the world tends to be much more still at night, that crazy busy city intersection might be totally quiet at night. If you want to capture the world as people don’t usually see it, night time is definitely one of the best times to take pictures.
Portraits shot at night time also have an edge that daytime portraits just don’t have. By placing your subject around interesting light sources, such as neon signs, you’ll be able to create some truly portfolio-worthy portraits. Just make sure you shoot RAW vs. JPEG if you choose this time of day to shoot.
What To Do With All Those Outdoor Pictures
Once you’ve made your choice for the best time of day to take pictures, and settled on some images that you’re really proud of you, make sure you take the time to add them to your online portfolio. It’s super important for for photographers to build an awesome portfolio, since it’s the number-one way fans and potential clients can get to know you and your work.
If you don’t have an online portfolio website yet, not to worry. It’s easy and fast to put together something really professional-looking if you choose the right website builder for the job. If you’re just starting out, it’s a good idea to look for one with a free trial. That’ll give you some time to play around with different templates and typography, and to set up some galleries, before you take the plunge.
You’ll also want to keep an eye out for an online portfolio that offers built-in client proofing. Quick turnaround is important to photography clients, so if you just shot an awesome outdoor portrait shoot, this feature will let you upload watermarked images to a proofing gallery straight from Lightroom for client review.
If you shoot landscapes or want to work as a travel photographer, a built-in blog is another feature you might want to look for in a website builder. That way, you don’t have to direct people to a whole separate site to read about the behind-the-scenes details of the best time to take pictures. Check out our SEO guide so that you can pack some SEO punch into those blog posts too, driving more traffic to your portfolio.
Ready to build a photography portfolio website that captures clients’ attention? From image-focused themes to a built-in proofing tool, we’ve got photographers covered. Start your free trial with Format today!
Clearly, the best time of day to take pictures outside can be just about anytime, depending on what you’re shooting and what look you’re going for. So don’t let the weather or time of day be an excuse—get out there, start shooting!
Looking to elevate your outdoor photography game?
10 Awesome Landscape Photography Tips
Silhouette Photography 101: Master the Basics
18 Landscape Photographers Who Will Inspire You to Get Outside