Before we dive deep into the times of day - let's first discuss the importance of location and time of year. This may seem obvious to some of you but others may be surprised how much location and time of year can affect your photos.
The time of year is probably the most obvious. The time of year can affect not only how your image looks, but what's actually in your image. Flowers in a beautiful evening picture wouldn't be present at all during the winter. Pretty obvious, yes.
But one aspect that some may overlook is the length of the day. The time of the year is going to affect the length of your day. Without going into astronomy - the length of your day will be much longer in the summer than in the winter (here in the United States). Your images will look completely different at 4 pm during the summer and the winter.
This adds to the location as well. The further you are away from the equator - the longer your days will be (depending on what hemisphere and what season you're experiencing). For instance, here in Seattle, during the Spring and Summer months - it doesn't get dark until 9:30 pm - yet when we lived in San Diego, it was completely dark by 8 pm.
We will dive much deeper into both aspects as we continue the article. Just keep this in mind going forward.
Here are the 4 best times for outdoor photography. Please note, that we don't want to come across as these are the 'end-all-be-all' times of the day for the best photo. While these times are important - experiment with other times and have fun!
The 4 ideal times for outdoor photography include:
Don't worry, we're going to dive deeper into each of these aspects to discuss why they're the best times for outdoor photos.
If You Can Wake Up!
This may be the best time of day for outdoor photography - but it's also the hardest to wake up for! Blue hour is that magical time just before sunrise and just after sunset when the world is bathed in blue light. The sun is below the horizon, but its light still manages to peek through and kiss the world in a beautiful blue hue. It's called 'blue hour' - but in reality, it's more like 20 minutes.
This is an excellent time for outdoor photography because the world is so calm and peaceful. The colors are also more saturated and there's less contrast than during other times of the day.
Also, if you manage to get up early enough (and depending on the time of year) - you'll have aspects of the environment that you wouldn't during other times of the day. This can include fog, steam, frost, etc... You get the idea.
If cooler color tones (blue) and unique environmental aspects are your thing - blue hour may be the best time for you to take outdoor photos!
If you're a morning person and caught blue hour - you'll soon enjoy golden hour.
This is probably the most popular time of day for outdoor photography and for good reason. Early morning photography (sometimes called 'golden hour') is that magical time just after sunrise when the world is bathed in a beautiful golden hue.
Just like a blue hour - the colors are more saturated, there's less contrast, and the environment is much more calm and peaceful. If you're a morning person - this may be the best time for you to take outdoor photos!
One thing to keep in mind is that during the winter months - golden hour will be much shorter than during the summer months. This is because the sun rises much later in the winter. Just something to keep in mind!
'Magic hour' is the hour right before sunset. This is regarded by most professional photographers as the best time to take photos - whether it be outdoor portraits or landscapes... there are a few reasons for this.
One of the main reasons is the hue and color cast by the sun at this angle. It's very warm, fun, and inviting. It's excellent for outdoor portraits to landscapes... everything looks amazing during this time.
Another reason is the extreme angle of the sun and the shadows that are cast. This creates great depth and shape in your image.
Last (but certainly not least), is the time of day. Generally speaking, during the spring through fall months, magic hour happens after 6 pm (again, depending on your location). This is great for clients (and photographers) that have a day job. They can get off of work and have a photo shoot or take some amazing landscapes after work to relax.
Keep in mind - depending on your location - magic hour will happen much earlier during the winter months (sometimes as early as 4 pm).
I consider this to be another time of day that's worthy of mention.
If you're at your location during magic hour - you can stick around a little longer to experience blue hour after sunset.
What I love about this time is the transition of colors in the sky that you may have not been able to see if you were to experience it in the morning.
You'll notice the sun will set and start with orange hues and then transition into reds and pinks, and finally fall into the blue spectrum. All of which happen over about 20 minutes.
Remember, the colors of the sky will influence the results of your images. The hue of the sky will change the 'feel' of your image completely. Seeing the same shot taken with different hues cast from the sky is a pretty incredible thing.
If you've heard someone speak about high noon... I'm sure their conversation (if it was related to photography), wasn't too great.
High noon is when the sun is directly above you in the sky, generally in the middle of the day. This creates the most unflattering shadows you'll experience throughout the day.
You'll generally want to avoid taking outdoor photographs during this time unless you're using an off-camera flash or are trying to create a very specific look with deep, dark shadows.
Seeing that the sun is directly overhead - shadows will be cast straight down. This is when you get the dreaded 'raccoon eyes' during portrait shoots... or very flat and contrasty landscape images.
The image above is courtesy of SLR Lounge
If you're taking portraits and you don't have an off-camera flash - I would highly recommend taking your portraits in the shade. Slightly underexpose your image (to preserve the background/highlights) - and bring the exposure to where it needs to be in post-production (like Adobe Lightroom).
The image above is courtesy of Wedding Wire
If you don't have either - completely avoid taking any images at high noon.
I'll be straightforward with this answer.
There is no 'best time' for photography on a cloudy day.
You see, cloudy days are (believe it or not) great for most types of photography. Seeing as cloudy days produce amazing, soft, diffused light across the entire scene. This would include your subject if you're taking portraits.
The image above is courtesy of Brendan Williams Creative
Soft evenly lit subjects make for an even easier photo editing session. You'll find it much easier to manipulate/edit an image that is evenly lit with soft light too!
The only type of photography that would suffer would be landscape - in my opinion. While evenly lit soft light over your scenes and subjects can be great... for a landscape image, it leaves a lot to be desired. It leads to boring landscape images for the most part.
As discussed previously - you'll want to avoid high noon.
Remember what we discussed from earlier - high noon is when the sun is at its highest point in the sky. This creates harsh downward shadows and contains no color hue.
But this doesn't mean you can't take some amazing photos! Believe me, you can!
I would recommend avoiding high noon at all costs and =/- 2 hours on either side of it.
If you can't avoid it at all... no need to worry. I recommend getting an ND filter to cut down on the harsh sunlight while allowing you to use slow shutter speeds. This is amazing for landscapes.
If you're taking photos of subjects (like portrait photography) - shoot in the shade and expose for the highlights behind them. Ambient light will illuminate them to an extent. During editing, you can recover the shadows/your subject. If this isn't an option - allow the sun to fall a bit and shoot them with the sun behind them.
This is key - if you're photographing a subject on a sunny day - always take your photos with the sun behind them. Expose slightly for the bright areas behind them and recover the shadows during editing!
I will conclude this article with a few bullet points to take with you. You'll be able to think about these when planning a shoot and/or when you're on location.
This applies to any type of photography - no matter the type... you'll know when the best time is to take photographs outdoors - and how that time will affect your image (and benefit you).
I really hope you have learned a thing or two from this article.
You should now know what the best time for outdoor photography is - but more importantly, why these times are important, how each time affects your images, and how each of them can help you create the images you desire!
Be sure to check out our other related articles such as 25 Photography Exercises For Beginners, How To Take Amazing Indoor Photos Without A Flash, and How To [potentially] Double Your Photo Session Profits Using ShootProof.
As always, if there are questions you have for us - feel free to drop us a line on our contact page or email us directly at [email protected]
Until next time keep learning and creating!