In my previous post I talked about what time of the year is best for portraits. There really is no right or wrong season. Each one is unique, and has its own special elements that can contribute to stunning portraits. Consider what clothing you are most comfortable in; what season make you the happiest. That is how I would choose when to have my portraits taken.
This post was created in response to a question that I received about when the best time for pictures is. As mentioned previously the answer is two fold. We discussed season, the second part is light.
Recently, I have been trying to really step out of my box as a photographer. It's scary at times. I'm still learning and stumbling through, but I am committed. This is a change that needed to happen. I used to refer to my self as a natural light photographer. Lighting matters so much when it comes to portraits and I absolutely love natural light. But in reality, I was really limiting myself and becoming more and more frustrated with the outcome of my images. I had to start adding some artificial lighting.
Let's break down the different times of day for outdoor photography.
Sunrise and Sunset
The “magic hours” of sunrise and sunset are the most popular times of day for most outdoor photography. During these times, the sun is low on the horizon and filtered through atmospheric particles that scatter blue light and allow warm light (such as reds, oranges, and yellows) to pass through. When this warm light strikes clouds, landforms, and other objects, the results can be colorful and extremely photogenic. When the sun is near an unobstructed horizon, it gives off an intense light that bathes objects and scenes in red and gold.
In the afternoon, the magic hour starts approximately an hour before sunset. At this time, the light starts to get noticeably warmer, and deep shadows begin to form, adding texture. Clouds in the sky light up with color at sunset and for a few minutes after. A truly gorgeous sunset can last for several minutes after the sun has set. In the early morning, everything is in reverse, with the magic hour beginning a few minutes before sunrise, extending until about 30-40 minutes after the sun has risen when the light begins to lose its warmth.
The photos below were taken just before or right around sunset. The sun is lower creating that sun flare that I love so much. For the young man in the middle, the young lady on the bottom center, and the mom& daughter the sun was getting pretty low so the addition of lighting was also used.
I don't think anyone has ever asked me to do a sunrise shoot. However I do have an image that I took for the high school soccer team. This was taken around 8:30 a.m. just as the clouds were breaking. Again, the use of artificial light in this case was a must.
Okay, so sunrise and sunset are great times for outdoor photography. But this is where aI was limiting myself. I get it.... we are BUSY! Small kids nap and go to bed early, kids have sports practices and games, parents work. I get it because I am a mom and I have been there. The golden hour time isn't alway "golden" for all of us.
What about the light during the middle of the day? Midday light is neutral, colorless, and honestly harsh; for me as a photographer, it is the non-magic hours and that sunlight is best avoided. That was the old photographer in me. So what do we do in harsh sun? We find shade, or use reflectors to bounce light back or artificial lighting to eliminate those harsh shadow that can occur from the sun being high in the sky. I will say if you are looking for soft, creamy light and sun flare than sunset is your option.
The images below are all examples of midday sessions, when the sun was still pretty high. The family on the top was placed in open shade; senior on the right was in open shade but also used artificial light; family bottom left was full sun with the use of a reflector; girls on bottom also in full sun and a reflector was used.
So what happens if the day your portrait session comes, and it is cloudy? This used to be my dream. Especially for a midday session. The soft, colorless light results from overcast conditions creating even light and no harsh shadow to contend with.
Overcast days work, if you know how to position your subject(s) properly, allowing the most amount of natural light to highlight their face. It's never a deal breaker for me, and the images that can from an overcast day can be just as beautiful.
This was great for me until I ran into an issue last year with a high school senior. Her day came; an evening session in the summer, but it was dense cloud cover and we were photographing in a heavily wooded area. I grabbed my flash, said some prayers and held my breath. This was the first time attempting adding artificial light. The results.... they turned out awesome!
Just like the seasons, there really is not a “best” time for outdoor photography. Rather, the best time depends on what you suits your schedule, and what you are trying to achieve and what look you are going for. That said, if you ask my opinion I will always steer my clients toward the "magic hours" just before sunset. The reason? It is just my favorite time to shoot. I love the colorful sky of a sunset, the warm glow it gives my subjects, and I love sun flare.
However, whatever time of the day that you choose, or if it is overcast, I've got you! I have the skill set and equipment to make it happen , and create images that you will love!