The best time to take photos outside is during Golden Hour, which is around 30 minutes before the sun sets.
Golden Hour light has a warm (orange) color temperature, with soft sun rays that create a dreamy atmosphere.
Another great time to take photos is during Blue Hour, the time right before the sun rises and right after the sun sets.
These ‘Magic Hours’ near sunrise and sunset are the most popular times of day for outdoor photography.
If you want to take outdoor photos and avoid harsh light, it’s best to stick to these times.
In this article, we’ll take a closer look at how to make the most of the natural light during Golden Hour and Blue Hour.
I’ll also show you how you can get great results even at the worst time of day to take outdoor photos.
Table of Contents
Understanding the Importance of Natural Light for Outdoor Photos
Lighting is everything in photography, so when shooting outdoors, understanding and mastering how to shoot through different times of the day and what story each kind of light tells is essential.
Outdoor portraits and landscape photography depend on natural light for mood, texture, and appearance.
Natural light gives photographs life with a spectrum of tones and colors that change with the time of day.
The warm glow of dawn and sunset gives portraits and landscapes a beautiful, ethereal aspect.
The soft blue tones of moments after the sun has set gives photographs a moody, mysterious, and soft atmosphere.
However, bright midday sunshine will create dramatic shadows and intense contrasts, giving a bold and striking image.
None is better than the other, for they will convey different stories and ultimately reach different goals.
The catch is that the sun waits for no one, so making sure you are present to capture the fleeting light is essential.
What You Need to Know About Light
The qualities of light, such as direction, intensity, and color, change dramatically during the day, and these variations can have a major impact on the subject, backdrop, and story of a photograph.
The light is low and angled in the early morning or late afternoon, forming lengthy shadows and producing a soft, warm color that can lend depth and richness to a shot.
This will often tell a story of hope, of a new day. Of things getting started and how beautiful and ethereal our planet’s landscapes can be.
At the end of the day, this golden light will tell a story of peace and gratitude. A gift we get for slowing down at the end of the day.
As the day moves near noon, the intensity rises and the light becomes more direct and harsh, resulting in sharp contrasts, dazzling highlights, and deep shadows.
This can add drama to an image and make adjusting overexposed parts difficult.
But at the same time, this will give us beautiful sharp images, with enhanced edges and contrast, making postcards out of landscapes, and is particularly interesting for fine art photographers looking to highlight a popular location.
The light softens again in the evening, and the hue transitions to cooler tones, producing a relaxing impression.
The blue tones that surge, after the sun has set, will allow for a beautiful window to shoot in soft mysterious light.
Photographers may alter the mood and visuals of their photos by knowing and managing these properties, resulting in strong and intentional compositions.
Why is Golden Hour a Great Time to Take Photos Outside?
The golden hour, which occurs shortly after dawn and shortly before sunset, is widely regarded as the most magical time for photography.
The sun is low in the sky during these few moments, casting a soft, warm light that bathes subjects in a golden glow and creates long, unidirectional shadows that creates depth and beauty to our photographs.
This golden light quality is ideal for a wide range of photography, from landscapes, where it emphasizes the contours of the landscape, to portraiture, where it lends a beautiful golden glow, ethereal appearance to the subject’s skin.
By making sure you are out early and ready to shoot when it happens, the golden hour provides an exceptional opportunity to take photographs that resonate with profound, natural beauty, transforming everyday situations into the most magical version they can be.
Why is Blue Hour a Great Time to Take Photos Outside?
The blue hour is the time right before sunrise and right after dusk, when the sky has a unique, soft blue color.
This makes it a great, and personally my favorite, time to take pictures outside.
In contrast to the warm golden light of the next-door golden hour, the blue hour is cooler and quieter, giving pictures a calm and mysterious feel.
This kind of lighting is great for cityscapes, seascapes, and landscapes because the slight blue tone helps to even out differences, soften hard lines, and give scenes a calm feeling.
This kind of light is also great for shooting anything with lights on, for it’s the only time of the day when you can still see everything in the background, while that light turned on pops in your photos.
The soft light of the blue hour is also free of the harsh shadows that can show at other times of the day. In fact, it’s mostly free of any shadows.
This gives photographers a chance to take pictures with depth, feeling, and a calm elegance that is hard to find at other times of the day.
Midday Photography: How to Overcome the Challenges of Harsh Light
When the sun is at its highest point in the sky in the middle of the day, it can be hard to shoot because the light is so sharp and bright, it creates unflattering shadows that cast over most subjects.
It’s also easy to overexpose your highlights and be caught in a difficult photo to work with in post.
Shooting with such a direct and harsh light can make things look flat, and not as interesting if you are careless.
But with the right intention and technic, the harsh midday light can create beautiful photos.
For portraits, I recommend going into the shade or using a diffuser that can soften the light and reduce harsh shadows.
If you don’t have a diffuser with you, try bouncing the light off any surface nearby to fill in the harsh shadows.
For landscape photos, using a polarizing filter can be very useful because it cuts down on glare and helps bring out colors and details that would otherwise be lost.
All else, some tropical landscapes are only really portraited if portraited under sunny harsh weather.
Tropical waters are blue, and the palm trees show their comforting shade. Harsh light often makes great postcards of locations.
By being mindful of what you are shooting and your story, you can deal with the problems of shooting during the middle of the day and still get interesting shots, even in the most difficult situations.
Is Night a Good Time to Take Photos Outside?
The same light tells a story, the absence of it tells a story just as powerful.
Night photography allows you to explore creative worlds such as astrophotography, light painting, and capturing cityscapes illuminated by brilliant artificial lights.
More so, night photography gives us the chance to portray the world in a way often unseen by most people.
The night sky, decorated with stars, can be a beautiful subject, while city light trails make very dynamic and captivating images.
However, photographing at night requires a bit more effort, such as handling slow shutter speeds, which can cause camera shake, and focusing difficulties.
A tripod can help stable the camera for lengthy exposures, while manual focus and a large aperture can help capture crisp shots in low-light circumstances.
Also, technology has never been more abundant. Lightroom and other noise reduction software such as Topaz AI, make a wonderful job at reducing noise from your images, giving us more room to work with high ISO.
Understanding and perfecting these techniques can result in magnificent, one-of-a-kind photos that capture the beauty and mystery of the night.
Don’t Forget Weather and Seasonal Considerations
The quality of light in photography can be greatly influenced by weather and season.
For example, overcast skies operate as a natural diffuser, softening the light and decreasing harsh shadows, resulting in more equal illumination. I personally love to use it for commercial and portrait photography.
Mist may provide an ethereal appearance by filtering light and highlighting subtle tones and textures as if a pro-mist filter has been added to the whole scene, making landscapes very dreamy.
Seasons also have an impact on how much and how great the golden and blue hours are.
These fleeting hours can last longer in winter since the sun is lower in the sky, whereas in summer they may be more brief.
The color temperature and atmospheric effects, such as haze or clear clarity, are also affected by the angle and strength of the sun during different seasons.
By taking all this into consideration, we can plan our shoots and even traveling calendar throughout the year so we are at locations when the odds of the weather being as we’d like are at the highest.
Recognizing and responding to these changes helps photographers to take advantage of natural settings, generating photos that are intentional and true to how we’d like to portray the world.
Best time to take photos outside: FAQs
When is the best time to take photos outside?
The best time to take photos outside is typically during the “golden hours” which occur shortly after sunrise and just before sunset. During these times, the sunlight is soft, diffused, and often produces a warm hue that can add depth and beauty to photographs.
Why is midday often considered a bad time for outdoor photography?
Midday, especially when the sun is directly overhead, can result in harsh shadows and overexposed highlights in photos. The light during this time is usually intense and lacks the softer quality that photographers often seek.
What is the “blue hour” in photography?
The “blue hour” refers to the period just before sunrise and just after sunset when the sky has a deep blue hue. This time is ideal for capturing cityscapes or landscapes with a serene and cool mood.
How does weather affect outdoor photography?
Weather can play a significant role in the mood and outcome of outdoor photos. Overcast days can provide diffused light which is great for portraits, while a dramatic sky filled with clouds can enhance landscape shots. However, extreme weather conditions like rain or storms might require protective gear for your equipment.
Can the time of year impact outdoor photography?
Yes, the time of year can affect the angle and intensity of sunlight. For instance, during winter, the sun remains lower in the sky even at midday, offering prolonged hours of softer light. In contrast, summer days can have longer but more intense sunlight periods.
Are there apps or tools to help determine the best time for outdoor photography?
Absolutely! There are various mobile apps and online tools that photographers can use to track the golden hour, blue hour, sunrise, and sunset times based on their location. Popular options include Golden Hour, PhotoPills, and The Photographer’s Ephemeris.
Is there a “bad” time for photography, or can skilled photographers make any lighting work?
While certain times, like midday, can present challenges, a skilled photographer can often find ways to use the available light creatively. Techniques like using shadows, employing filters, or finding shaded areas can all help mitigate less-than-ideal lighting conditions.
Hello, my name is Leo Cavazzana, I’m a professional photographer and film director. As a photographer, I’ve been photographing our natural world for the past 8 years and worked on assignments with NatGeo, BBC, and UN on all 5 continents. As a film director, I’ve been directing commercials and campaigns for brands for the past 4 years. I’m passionate about sharing about the world and photography with others.