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The Best Time to Take Photos Outside. Find Your Golden Hour for Photography

The Best Time to Take Photos Outside by George Tatakis. Article Cover

The Golden Hour might not be the best time to shoot photos, for you. The short answer to the question, if you ask me, is all and none. It all comes down to your photography style and the way you harness light in your composition. By studying master photographers, you will see that there is a broad spectrum of lighting in their masterpieces. Whether you're a professional photographer or an enthusiast, understanding the best time to take photos outside can enhance your images.

In this article, we will explore different times and conditions. We will discover the magical moments where the light is perfect for capturing stunning photographs. No matter if the photos are for your next professional project, or if you want to take family photos with your kids. So grab your camera, and let's find the ideal time to step outside and capture the world around you.

Outdoor Photos: Key takeaways

  • Timing is crucial in photography to make the most of natural lighting conditions

  • The Golden Hour refers to the periods of sunrise and sunset. They provide the soft, warm light that many photographers prefer

  • The morning and evening offer distinct visual characteristics and moods for capturing stunning images

  • Cloudy days and rainy weather can also offer unique opportunities for atmospheric and moody shots

  • The harsh midday sun can be utilized creatively. Techniques such as seeking shade or using light modifiers can come into play

  • Night photography presents opportunities to capture different atmospheres, whether in the urban or rural setting

Time of Day

© Alex Webb / Magnum Photos - Etroits, La Gonave, Haiti, 1986
© Alex Webb / Magnum Photos - Etroits, La Gonave, Haiti, 1986

I know sometimes you go and take outdoor photos, whenever it suits your schedule. Professional photographers don't do that, however. The time of day and time of year play a crucial role in determining the quality of light for outdoor photography. By understanding the unique characteristics of each period, you can make informed decisions about when to venture out with your camera. Therefore, the best practise is to experiment with different lighting conditions, before you can master light in photography.

Morning Photoshoot

During the early morning hours, nature awakens, and the world is enveloped in a gentle, soft light. The sun rises, casting warm hues that beautifully illuminate your subjects. This soft sunlight enhances natural colors and textures, adding depth and richness to your photographs. In addition, the calmness and serenity of early morning scenes can create a tranquil and peaceful mood in your images. With the rising sun as your backdrop, you can also experiment with capturing stunning silhouettes. This can add a touch of drama to your compositions.

Evening Photoshoot

As the day progresses towards evening, a magical transformation takes place. The warm and golden light of the sunset casts a soft glow, adding a touch of enchantment to your photographs. The evening golden hour provides vibrant and dynamic skies, offering a breathtaking backdrop for your images. This time of day also enhances the mood and atmosphere of your photographs. It allows you to capture the beauty of moments bathed in golden hues. The soft, directional light during the golden hour emphasizes depth and dimension in your images, making them visually captivating.

Time of Year

Black and white photography shot in Lefkada, Greece. By George Tatakis

Hours of Sunshine

The time of year also needs to be taken into consideration. Summer provides different qualities than winter. In the summer, you get more time in the sun, and sunset comes much later in the day. This might be something to take into account, in different situations. For example, when photographing kids. Nine pm might be past their bedtime.

Weather and Lighting Conditions

In the summer, light this the earth at a different angle. The overhead sun is more apparent, which affects your photography and the camera settings you may need to use. The midday light can be much harsher, compared to that of winter. Finally, usually in the summer, you have brighter days and fewer clouds. That is different compared to the overcast or rainy days of the winter.

Autumn vs Spring

Fall and spring share the same hours of sunshine more or less. Still, the sun hits our planet at a different angle. You need to experiment with both, as this will affect differently, different parts of the world. Therefore, it depends on the place you are shooting in.

The main difference, however, is the color palette between these two seasons. During the spring, nature comes alive, and you have a colorful palette of greens, yellows, pinks and so on. On the other side, fall is when nature prepares to sleep. The palette now changes to colors brown, orange and burgundy.

Golden Hour, or Magic Hour

© Constantine Manos / Magnum Photos - Daytona Beach, USA 1997
© Constantine Manos / Magnum Photos - Daytona Beach, USA 1997

The golden hour in photography is defined as the first hour after sunrise and the last hour before sunset. This magical period provides favorable lighting for your photo shoot, especially for portraits. The main characteristics of light during golden hour are:

  • Softer shadows and less contrast

  • Warmer shades of colors

  • More saturated colors

  • Beautiful colors in the sky

  • Easier to expose with your camera, due to the narrower difference between shadows and highlights.

Thus, it is often referred to as the pinnacle of outdoor shooting, whether color or black-and-white photography. You can also try to utilize the technique of backlight in photography, as this time is the best for it. Let's explore the unique qualities of the Golden Hour and how you can make the most of these moments.

Sunrise

Black and white photograph shot on Spetses, Attica, Greece. By George Tatakis

The hour before the sun rises offers an opportunity to witness the world come alive. The delicate pastel hues that paint the landscapes during sunrise create a breathtaking backdrop for your photographs. The tranquility and stillness of the morning allow you to embrace and capture the quiet beauty of nature. Moreover, the presence of fewer particles in the atmosphere during sunrise results in a clearer atmosphere. This produces more saturated colors, compared to the sunset light. This adds vibrancy to your images. Whether you are photographing landscapes, seascapes, or cityscapes, sunrise offers a magical and ethereal light that brings your subjects to life.

Sunset

In the evening, as the bright sun sets on the horizon, the world is bathed in a warm and golden hue. The rich color palette of the natural landscape is dramatically enhanced during the sunset golden hour light. It provides a captivating backdrop for your photographs. Silhouettes against the backdrop of a setting sun can be particularly striking, adding a touch of drama to your images. Sunset photography is also more convenient than sunrise, as you and your models don't need to start too early. This allows you to capture the romance and dreamlike ambiance of dusk without sacrificing sleep.

Blue Hour

Black and white photograph shot at Nea Vyssa, Evros, Greece. By George Tatakis

The Blue Hour, which occurs just before sunrise and after sunset, is a magical time for photography. As the natural light transitions from day to night, the sky takes on a serene and ethereal blue tone. During this period, the cityscape comes alive with twinkling lights, making it an ideal time to capture urban landscapes. Yet, the sky's blue shade also enhances charming rural views. The soft, diffused light of the Blue Hour creates a surreal atmosphere, allowing you to experiment with long exposures. This provides unique effects like light trails and soft motion. This period offers a different perspective and can add a touch of mystery and beauty to your photographs. Experiment with shooting outdoor portraits during this time. The lack of contrast and harsh shadows are favorable to people's faces.

Cloudy and Rainy Days

Black and white photograph shot in Oia, Santorini, Greece. By George Tatakis

Sunny days are often preferred for outdoor photography by many. However, don't discount the beauty and potential of cloudy and rainy weather. These days are my favorite! Overcast skies can provide soft and even lighting that is ideal for a variety of photographic styles.

Let's explore how you can make the most of cloudy days and rainy weather in your photography.

Rainy Day

Rainy weather may not be everyone's first choice for photography. Still, it offers a unique opportunity to capture moody and atmospheric images. The rain adds depth and texture to your photographs, creating a sense of drama and emotion. One of the advantages of photographing on a rainy day is the opportunity to capture beautiful reflections. Raindrops on surfaces can create mesmerizing images by reflecting light and adding visual interest. Experiment with creative compositions using umbrellas and puddles to enhance the overall mood of your shots. The soft and even lighting provided by cloudy skies complements the atmosphere of rainy days. This allows you to capture images that evoke a particular feeling or story.

Overcast Day

An outdoor shoot during a cloudy day can yield favorable results in people's portraits. This is because your key light (the clouds) is now much closer to your subject and is much larger. There is now a more ambient light throughout the day compared to the harsh light of the direct sun. Adjust camera settings for cloudy days: Increase ISO value for more light sensitivity (400-1600 recommended). Decrease the shutter speed for more light on the sensor. If you are working in manual mode, try to start with these camera settings. An aperture of f/5.6, ISO400 and speed to 1/400 and tweak from there.

Harsh Midday Sun Light

Black and white photograph shot in Trikala, Thessaly, Greece. By George Tatakis

Photographing under the harsh midday sun can be challenging, but with the right techniques, you can still create captivating images. This period presents unique opportunities to experiment with light, shadow, and color. Let's explore how you can make the most of the harsh midday sun.

Use the Light

Harnessing the power of direct sunlight can result in high contrast and dynamic images. The strong shadows and highlights created by the sun can emphasize texture and details. This adds depth and visual interest to your photographs. Don't shy away from capturing vibrant colors under harsh lighting conditions. They can add energy and impact to your shots. Experiment with creative techniques such as using natural light modifiers like leaves or objects to create interesting patterns or shapes. Embracing the strong sun, even at noon, and understanding its effects on your subjects can lead to visually captivating photographs.

Black and white photograph shot on Chios, Greece. By George Tatakis

Block the Light

Sometimes, depending on the location, seeking shade is the best solution when confronted with harsh midday sun. By positioning your subject in the shade, you can soften the harsh lighting conditions and achieve even lighting across your shot. This technique is particularly useful when photographing portraits, as it creates a more flattering and comfortable environment for your subjects. Another way to control the intensity of the light is by using diffusers or reflectors. These tools can help soften and redirect the sun's rays, allowing you to achieve the desired effect in your photographs. You can also try to take photos a bit later in the afternoon when the light is sweeter. By utilizing shade and light modifiers, you can control and manipulate the lighting conditions to your advantage. This will result in visually pleasing images.

Black and white photograph shot on Salamina, Greece. By George Tatakis

Night Photography

Black and white photograph shot on Santorini, Greece. By George Tatakis

The magic of photography extends beyond daylight hours. Nighttime offers a myriad of creative possibilities, showcasing a unique atmosphere and perspective. Explore the urban or rural settings after dark and capture the beauty that emerges under the starry sky. Techniques include using an on-camera flash, studio lights, or a tripod with available light. Nowadays, you can even use a handheld camera by bumping the ISO values up to 25,000 or more.

Around the City

Cities come alive at night, with bright lights illuminating the streets and buildings. This presents an excellent opportunity for creative night photography. Capture the bustling nightlife, the vibrant city lights, and the architectural beauty that takes on a different character after dark. Experiment with long exposures to create mesmerizing light trails of passing cars. You can add a sense of motion and energy to your images. The vibrant atmosphere of urban landscapes can result in visually captivating photographs. They can tell a story of the city's vibrant nightlife.

In the Country

In rural areas, away from the city lights, a different kind of magic emerges at night. The vast expanse of the starry night sky offers endless possibilities for capturing awe-inspiring photographs. The peaceful and serene beauty of nature takes on a new dimension under the moonlit sky. Use long exposures to capture the movement of the stars, creating stunning landscapes that showcase the beauty of the night. Experiment with flash creatively to create surreal or abstract scenes, introducing bloom to the image. Additionally, small LED lights and long exposures can be used to photograph portraits, introduce motion, and create eerie images. Night photography in the country opens up a realm of possibilities. Explore and capture the beauty that emerges under the cover of darkness. Although not commonly preferred for outdoor family photos, night photography can open a new artistic realm.

Conclusion

Black and white photograph shot on Seli, Veria, Macedonia, Greece. By George Tatakis

The best time to take photos outside ultimately depends on you. Your style, the mood you want to convey, and the effect you aim to achieve. Understanding the unique qualities of different times of day and weather conditions allows for more intentional and artistic photography. Embrace the magical lighting conditions provided by the Golden Hour, whether it be during sunrise or sunset. Experiment with different weather conditions, such as cloudy days and rainy weather, to add depth and variety to your portfolio. Challenge yourself to capture the beauty of different times of day and explore their unique qualities. Remember, lighting in photography is a matter of taste, and there is no one-size-fits-all answer. So, follow your artistic vision, experiment with different lighting conditions, and decide which ones best suit your style.

In conclusion, the world is a canvas waiting to be captured through your lens. With the right timing and understanding of lighting, you can elevate your photography and create images that stand out. So, grab your camera, step outside, and let the world inspire you.

Love xx

What is your favorite time to take photos outside, and why? We would love to hear your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.

Frequently Asked Questions


What is the best time of day to take pictures outside?

The best time of day to take pictures outside is during the golden hour, which occurs around sunrise and sunset. This is when the lighting is soft, warm, and creates a flattering glow on your subjects. Avoid harsh midday sun for more balanced lighting and better results in your photos.

Is 5pm a good time to take pictures outside?

Is 10 am a good time to take pictures?

What is Golden Hour in Photography?


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