Are you trying to shoot high-quality photos in the great outdoors? Wondering what the best times of day are for the use of natural light? This guide will lead you through everything you need to know for working with natural light and photography, no matter the subject. Keep in mind that working with natural light has its own challenges, and you must learn how to shoot in a variety of weather and lighting conditions.
Taking Photographs in the Great Outdoors: The Ultimate Guide for 2020
If you shoot your photos at the best time of the day, when natural light benefits the camera most, you’ll end up with beautiful photos. If you are expanding your portfolio, make sure to shoot in natural light for the highest quality shots. If you want to know the best time to take photos outdoors, you need to think about what you want from the photos and the type of photography you are practicing.
Many professionals consider that the best time to shoot is during magic hours or the combination of the golden hour and the blue hour. Keep reading to find out more!
The Golden Hour
Golden Hour Photography is a term you’ve probably heard a lot about. Many photographers rave about the wonderful photos they take during the golden hour. Most people consider the golden hour the best time of day to shoot a variety of different types of photography, such as landscape photography.
So, what is this golden hour? It is that time of the day right after sunrise in the morning, or the period before sunset in the evening. During those periods, the sun is hanging low in the sky, and the result in photos is a soft and flattering natural light. The photos will be tinged with a beautiful golden yellow and reddish color, which is where the golden hour gets its name.
The golden hour is the best time to take portraits outdoors. This light is the most flattering on people’s faces because the shadows become soft and diffused, and warm light is flattering for all face types. Chances are your clients will love how their photos turn out in the golden hour natural light, and they will be impressed with your work!
Golden hour light is also flattering for still subjects and scenes. Landscapes and natural monuments benefit from the warm hue of the golden light.
The lighting contrast around this time is also less intense since the sun is at a lower position. The low light angle softens the shadows while creating a flattering visual effect. Furthermore, the contrast that distinguishes highlights and shadows during this period is the most noticeable. This effect helps to make the scale and form of landscape scenes more apparent and contributes a unique aesthetic to your images.
Overcoming Outdoor Challenges
The golden hour is great for photography, but there are also many challenges photographers should keep in mind. Here are the challenges of shooting during the golden hour and how to overcome the challenges of sunset and sunrise photography:
Rapidly Changing Light Conditions
As the sun is in motion, quickly rising or descending, the light conditions will be rapidly changing. You must know how to work quickly and change your settings just as fast. It is difficult when shooting human or animal subjects because the light may change before you can get the perfect shot. Sometimes you will have to deal with distortions like shadows, which must be filled on a subject’s face. Using a reflector can help with this issue, but if the sun is too low, the reflector may not be able to properly fill in shadows. Shooting during golden hour requires you to constantly change settings and work with your camera. While this might sound challenging, it is also a great way to practice the fluency of your camera usage.
Natural Light Can Distract from the Subject
When shooting in golden hour conditions, there may be too much natural color saturation, which can be distracting in your composition. If you focus solely on the sunset or sunrise, the colors can work to your advantage. When shooting other subjects, the intense colors can draw away attention from your main subject and overpower the subject. Bright and vibrant colors can be both an advantage and a disadvantage, but make sure you are giving your subject the right amount of attention.
Golden Hour May Not Be the Best Time
Very early mornings and evenings may not be the best time to shoot because your clients most likely won’t be available. Many people don’t want to wake up early enough for sunrise photography and have other commitments in the evenings. Even though gold hour photography will result in gorgeous portrait photos, you’ll have to convince clients getting up early is truly worth it. Consider having samples of golden hour photography in your portfolio to convince clients to join you on magic hour photoshoots.
If you are worried about the challenges of taking photos during the golden hours, opt for shooting a couple of hours after the sunrise golden hour or a couple of hours before sunset. You can still get the beautiful light conditions and effects of the golden hour at these times, and many photographers consider them to be the best times to shoot during the day. When the sun is low in the sky, photos will have that pleasant soft light and glow to them, and your subjects can confidently keep their eyes open for the shoot.
The Blue Hour
The blue hour is an underrated term in photography because it’s not as popular as the golden hour. Blue hour – or civil twilight, refers to that period immediately before sunrise and after sunset – or dawn and dusk – when the sun is 6 degrees below the horizon. During that time, the sun is behind the horizon, yet there is still some ambient light. Shooting at this time of day will give your photos a bluish tinge of color. The blue hour is a very brief moment, but it’s a great time for shooting outdoors.
Blue hour light in photos gives off an aura of stillness, peace, and tranquility. Shooting outdoor blue hour scenes can be great when there are very few people outdoors. The blue hour is also great for shooting winter scenes with a lot of snow. It’s also a good time to shoot magazine-worthy water scenes. Find places where lights are reflected in the water, and play around with those in your composition.
Cityscapes lend themselves to blue-hour photography very well. For high-quality urban scenes, consider the benefits of blue hour photography. At this time of the day, the city’s lights pecker your images with orange and yellow, and the contrast between the concrete of the city, the lights, and the blue hues of the blue hour is rather brilliant.
If you enjoy painting with light, blue hour is the perfect time to do it, although you have to familiarize yourself with twilight photography settings.
So, how do you know when blue hour and golden hour occur? It all depends on your geographical location and what time of year it is. The best way to have a perfect schedule for it is to download one of the many free applications that will be able to tell you, depending on the day, what the conditions of the light will be at what time.
Mid-Morning and Afternoon Outdoor Photography Tips
Think about the context in which you are taking photos. Certain types of photography require different lighting conditions. When shooting corporate headshots, for example, a soft outdoor glow is unnecessary; thus, it’s better to shoot in a studio. If you are taking outdoor photos and you can’t shoot during the golden hour, try mid-morning and evening shoots because the sunlight will not be as harsh upon the subject as noon and afternoon light. The angle of the sun at these times will also be helpful.
The sun will not be right above your subject, and there won’t be any harsh or unflattering shadows. In these conditions, you will be shooting in yellow light, which is flattering for all skin tones. You may use a white reflector to tone down the yellow, or a gold reflector to add more warmth to the subject’s complexion.
The mid-morning and afternoon is the perfect time for amateurs and beginners to practice taking photos. Even if they can’t use the camera’s manual settings yet, the camera’s automatic settings will work well in these light conditions, and the result will be clear, beautiful, and well-lighted photos. Urban photo walks are a good way to walk around and find different subjects to take photos of and perfect shooting skills.
High-Noon or Mid-Day Photography in the Brutal Outdoors
Most photographers agree that high-noon is not a great time for most photographic genres. In fact, many photographers call it the worst time to take photos outdoors.
The sun is located right above our heads at midday and will cast striking shadows and contrast. Wedding photographers will try to avoid this time because many hard shadows are coming through at this time, which is unflattering for couples. In general, shooting mid-day will not provide the aethereal effects of golden and blue hour photography.
So, you may wonder, who enjoys high-noon photography? It’s those photographers who want to get creative and work through challenges. It’s usually the urban landscape photographers who like to shoot in high-noon light conditions because they can use hard shadows to their advantage. The benefits of hard shadows are that they add a touch of drama to an image. Consider that photos of bodies of water will look crystal-clear at noon, so many photographers choose to shoot water scenes at noon.
Shooting at high-noon can be challenging, but there are ways to overcome them. A way to avoid hard shadows on your subjects’ faces is to fill them in with either fill lights or reflectors. If you don’t have a reflector on hand, try to use objects around you that reflect light. Find a light-colored object that will reflect enough light to light up the subject’s face naturally. Something as simple as a large sheet of paper can work. You can also make use of objects present in your environment: light-colored walls, tables, or even sand at the beach.
High-noon light conditions are best for creating creative images and compositions. You can create high-contrast shots and play around with the hard lighting conditions to make some of your most creative and unique work. If you really want to have a punch in some of your photographs, consider taking them during high noon lighting conditions.
Cloudy Day Photography
We’ve been assuming that you are going to be taking photos in clear weather conditions, regardless of the time of day. But of course, no matter where you live, there won’t be ideal conditions all the time, that’s why it’s important to know a bit about taking photos outdoors on cloudy days. Let’s talk a bit about dealing with adverse weather conditions.
Clouds are actually your friends. Clouds are basically incredibly large diffusers for the sun when it comes to photography. One of the best ways to get artificial soft light is to use a powerful light with a large diffuser near your subject. The combination of the sun and the cloud is the, often more powerful, natural light equivalent.
Another great thing about clouds, dependant on other environmental factors, is the ability to have light rays. These light rays are often touted in images as providing a heavenly element to a composition.
Finally, clouds themselves can be the subjects of your images, with some creativity. The greyness and movement of clouds are visually and emotionally impactful.
Outdoor Storm Photography
Storm photography is inherently different to regular natural light photography because the lighting conditions move back and forth with incredible speed. Landscape photographers and storm chasers use this to their advantage with longer exposures to create incredible images, like the one above. Use these lighting conditions for dramatic and intense photos.
Outdoor Night Photography
Night photography sounds strange. Nighttime is often thought of as the absence of light, so how is a photographer meant to make do with no light? You will need to learn more about your camera, long exposures, and stabilization, but with these variables under control you can have some amazing images.
If you want to catch images of the world when people usually don’t see it, nighttime is perhaps one of the best times to shoot. There is much more stillness at night; the roads and intersections are no longer bustling with people. The late-night is a great time to take interesting photos that allow you freedom and creativity. Think about how you can make the most use of light sources, be it the moon in rural areas, or the fantastic nighttime urban world.
Special Challenge: The Northern Lights
The ultimate nighttime landscape for many is a photo of the northern lights, hopefully over an incredible landscape. This will take immense time, preparation, and energy, but it is one of the dream images for many photographers.
Seasonal Outdoor Photography
Outdoor photography shooting conditions are rather seasonal; each season having its own advantages and disadvantages. When is the best time to take photographs in which season? Does it change depending on where you are in the world?
Outdoor Photography in Spring and Summer
Spring and summer are similar in that the days are longer and there is more sunshine. The best time to shoot during these seasons is early in the morning and late in the afternoon. For the best landscape photos, the golden hour is an ideal time of the day to shoot.
If you are shooting midday in spring and summer, you may face issues with an overly bright sky. If you are doing a portrait photography shoot and the sun is at its peak, you will note that more emphasis is placed on a person’s imperfections, and the harshness of the light can wash out important features.
Early in the morning and late afternoons, light is gentler and more moderate. If you want to take photos of nature and flowers, that soft ambient light is ideal. Some photographers prefer the late afternoon for landscape photography.
Outdoor Photography in Autumn
The best time to shoot outdoors during the fall season is during sunrise and sunset, or in any of times of the day that provide twilight lighting. The effect of the chilly fall nights is a curtain of morning mist, and dew on grass. This provides great reflections of the color temperature of the light. Fog is also often prevalent in these seasons, and fog can be used as white space for truly fantastical exposures.
Depending on your subject, you might want to take advantage of the different golden and blue hours of the day. Sometimes, a landscape would be much better suited to an evening West sunset rather than a morning East sunrise. One of the simplest ways to create beautiful imagery is to combine the golden tones and hues of sunset with vivid autumn foliage colors.
Outdoor Winter Photography
Winter is truly brought to the forefront when it comes to the magical hours of the day: the times when golden and blue hours are melding together, or when then sun is on the horizon. The low angle of the sun in the sky at those times creates a magical light effect that brings out the beauty of the cold winter.
Keep in mind that winter conditions are special because you can usually get great shots throughout the daytime. The ambient light can be ideal for shooting all day. The sun doesn’t reach the highest point in the sky during the winter, and as a result, winter offers a soft, flattering light for long periods of the day. This also means that the golden hours of the day last much longer.
Another benefit of winter is the reflection of light off of snow. Snow can be used as a built-in massive reflector, filling in shadows even when the sun is higher in the sky.
Make the most of your outdoor photos
Now that you’ve read about the different conditions for outdoor photography, you can create the perfect photographer’s portfolio – one that includes outdoor shots in all the different light conditions and all seasons. Consider having an online portfolio where potential clients and fans can view your work and contact you easily. This portfolio can be seasonal, allowing clients to see your work across the seasons.
Taking great photos takes hard work and patience. Be ready to get up early or stay up late to profit from those magic hours. Photographers know how important “chasing the light” can be. Knowledge of lighting conditions and how best to utilize them, along with practicing within them, will make you a better photographer, no matter where you are.
Featured Image: (https://pixabay.com/photos/nature-iceland-river-sun-sunrise-3824496/)
5 Additional Tips for Outdoor Photography
- Take Photos of the Stars and Moon at Astronomical Dusk
Learning to photograph the sky at night in darkness will open up a whole new set of photo opportunities. You can shoot the sky, the stars, the moon, lunar eclipses, solar eclipses, the milky way, and even meteor showers.
The best way to capture shots at night is to get out of the city and find a rural area where the glare of city lights won’t negatively influence your photos. The sky should be completely dark when taking night photos of the sky. Astronomical dusk is the ideal time to shoot photographs. It occurs about 1.5 to 2 hours after sunset when the sun is at 18 degrees below the horizon. Another consideration is that you need to have as little light pollution as possible. Find a ‘dark site’ near you, where there is a minimal amount of light pollution filter its way into your images. Lastly, take the time to find a night where adverse weather conditions will not obstruct your view of the sky.
- Use the Right Exposure for Winter Photography
Exposing for snow can be a challenge. If you underexpose snow, it turns grey with strange color hues, while if your snow is overexposed, you may lose all of the present detail. Take several test shots to work your way to the perfect result. Often, this means that you might be shooting the snow 1/3 to 1/2 stop overexposed, relative to your camera’s light meter.
- Use Polarizing Filters
Polarizing filters are excellent help when shooting outdoors. They only allow the light in from certain angles so you can remove any glare by merely rotating the filter until the desired effect is achieved. A polarizing filter can remove those unwanted reflections from the water, ground, sky, snow, windows, and other nonmetallic objects. These filters make the sky appear darker, bluer, and reduce overexposure, which usually occurs when shooting in direct sunlight.
- Use a Wide-Angle Lens
If you are out shooting landscape photos, you’ll find wide-angle lenses very helpful. A wide-angle lens has a wide field of view. These lenses create a sense of space and distance in a photo. A wide-angle lens will help you take better photos outdoors because it captures more of the scene. Wide-angle lenses can make any subject feel more visually imposing to the viewer if used correctly.
- Use a Tripod
Outdoor photography involves a lot of waiting for the right moment or ideal lighting conditions. Sometimes you may feel like you’re on a stake-out, waiting for that perfect moment, while at other times, you may be wanting to shoot a long exposure but can’t rest your camera on anything or hold it nearly as steadily as necessary. A tripod helps with all of this. When waiting for a specific light, you can already have your composition perfectly locked in with a tripod, or when taking a long exposure, you can trust that your camera will not shift.