Whether you’re an amateur photographer, a seasoned professional, or a mom who snaps away with a camera from time to time, you probably know that proper photography lighting is crucial. Too much light and your images are washed out, too little and you’re left with nothing but shadows. Few factors influence a photoshoot more than light and few factors influence lighting more than the time of day.

So how can you choose the perfect time of day for your outdoor photoshoot? Here are some tips to get you started:

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Photography Lighting Tips: Choosing the time of day

Remember the Golden Hour of Photography

In the business, we photographers talk a lot about something called the “the golden hour.” And while that sounds likes some mystical moment lifted out of a Tolkien epic, really it’s nothing more than a time of day that provides excellent lighting for photography. The Golden Hour actually happens twice every day – it is the first hour of light after sunrise and the last hour of light before the sun disappears beneath the horizon.  Depending on the season, this golden window of opportunity may be slightly more or slightly less than 60 minutes. However, regardless of how long it lasts it almost always offers ideal photography conditions. Why? Because the sun is low in the sky and a soft, diffused light illuminates the outdoors. So rather than a glaring midday sun, you have a warm glow that produces low contrast.

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Avoid High Noon

If the Golden Hour is photography-friendly, than midday hours are a photographer’s kryptonite. Shadows are dark and harsh, and images are wrought with high contrast and are at risk for overexposure. Rather than shooting when the sun is at its peak point in the sky, schedule your shoot a few hours before or after so that you can take advantage of a slightly softer illumination.

Be patient and wait for the right light.

This final tip isn’t really a luxury that most professional photographers can afford, but if you’re out in the field shooting on your own then a few more hours may not be a problem. In the case of outdoor photography, conditions are constantly changing. So if you find yourself with bad photography lighting, wait for more ideal conditions rather than trying to force a photoshoot to happen. While waiting around might sound like a terrific waste of time, you’d be surprised just how quickly light changes – particularly during the early morning and late afternoon. Even a wispy cloud floating in front of the sun can provide the light adjustment you were looking for.

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In addition to the time of day, there are lots of other factors that influence when to schedule a portrait session or photoshoot. Factors like weather, season, availability of the photographer, availability of the clients, and whether or not the timeframe interferes with a little one’s naptime. As a Washington DC family photographer, I like to work closely with my clients to make recommendations and ensure that we pick a time – and place – that works for everyone.

Have you heard of the Golden Hour before, or do you have another favorite time of day to shoot? Tell me in the comments below!

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