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  • Writer's pictureAbdul Qudoos

The Best Time to Take Pictures Outdoors for Stunning Results


best time to take pics outside

Want to take jaw-dropping photos outdoors? Timing is everything. When you take pictures makes all the difference for outdoor photography.


So what is the best time to take pics outside?


The golden hours just after sunrise and before sunset are ideal times for outdoor photography. During these magical hours, the lighting is soft and golden, creating dazzling images.


But that's not all. Even on cloudy days, the diffused light can lead to spectacular scenery shots. And nighttime offers yet another world of opportunities to get creative.


So there's no one perfect time rather it depends on what you're shooting. To discover all the ideal times for outdoor photo shoots, read on.


Best Times To Take Pics Outside

Let's look at some of the best times to take outdoor pictures:


1. Magic Hour



The most magical time for outdoor photography is undoubtedly the golden hour. Spanning roughly an hour after sunrise and before sunset, this period is bathed in a warm, even glow that adds beauty and depth to images.


But what exactly causes this magnificent lighting? And how can you catch it in your shots? Let's find out.


What Makes the Golden Hour So Golden

During the golden hour, the sun sits low on the horizon, diffusing its light through more atmosphere. This softens shadows and reduces contrast. It also gives landscapes and skin warm, golden undertones.


The lower angle creates interesting shadows that accentuate texture. This combines to produce exceptionally flattering lighting.


No harsh shadows. Subtle, dimensional shadows instead. No overexposed highlights or squinting subjects. Just perfectly balanced, golden lighting wherever you look.


How to Make the Most of Golden Hour

Golden light may last around 60 minutes. But its most intense period, when the first hints of sun rays crown the horizon, is fleeting.


Here are tips to capitalize on beautiful dawn or dusk light:

  • Track sunrise/sunset times: Note exactly when the magic hour occurs in your location. Apps like PhotoPills provide forecasts.

  • Arrive early: Give yourself extra setup time so you’re ready the second the best light emerges.

  • Pre-visualize backdrops: Decide if you’ll include silhouetted elements like trees or structures. Frame compositions in advance.

  • Focus on dimension: Position subjects to take advantage of the angled light. It naturally sculpts dimension beautifully.

  • Embrace color: Boost warm golden hour saturation in camera settings or post-processing. Deep blue skies also dominate.


When executed seamlessly, images lit by the low-hanging sunrise or sunset sun feel alive. There’s depth, warmth, and magic that daylight cannot replicate.


Best Subjects for Golden Hour

If new to harnessing dawn and dusk’s dreamy potential, begin by photographing these classic golden hour subjects:

Landscapes - The angled light adds dimension to epic scenes with mountains, canyons, rolling hills, or forestry. For next-level results, include a lake or violent sea to reflect the vibrant color and textures.

Fields - Rows of crops and flowers glow under the magic hour sun. The backlight creates defined lines pointing toward the horizon.

Silhouettes - Position subjects before a bright sky so their shapes are defined in a darkened silhouette. Works perfectly with trees, mountains, or structures.


When equipped with this shoot list, it’s easy to maximize the golden hour on your next outdoor photo adventure.


2. Blue Hour



As the golden hour ends, many photographers pack up their gear and head home. But for those in the know, there’s another magical lighting period waiting to emerge - the blue hour.


Occurring just after sunset, this cooler cousin of the golden hour casts scenes in soft diffused light with a striking blue undertone. To master it, you’ll need to understand its unique properties.


Science of the Blue Hour

After the sun dips below the horizon, scattered sun rays continue reflecting blue light to the upper atmosphere. As darkness grows, this light mixes with artificial lights to create an intense (but short-lived) blue/violet glow.


With the right conditions, around 20-30 minutes of dreamy blue shooting time emerges.

While the golden hour flatters warm tones, the blue hour does the opposite - boosting cool tones in interesting ways. Blue and purple hues intensify. Neutral and warm tones take on a new mood.


It sets an entirely different creative stage than sunset’s final moments.


How to Make the Most of Blue Magic

Having foreknowledge of this cooler cousin to golden hour light lets you prepare tripods, exposures, and compositions ahead of time.


Here are tips for stunning blue hour shots:

  • Arrive early: Wait patiently through the final minutes of the golden hour so you’re ready.

  • Set white balance: Opt for cooler rather than warmer settings to accentuate blue hues.

  • Activate self-timers: Eliminate camera shake since exposures lengthen as light fades.

  • Embrace urban glow: Position city skylines/buildings to utilize emerging artificial lights.

  • Enhance mood: Use slower apertures for greater focus falloff. Increase vibrance/saturation subtly during editing for intensified toning.


Best Subjects for Stunning Blue Effects

Once the blue hour’s effects are understood, training your lens on the right subjects takes things to the next level.


Try photographing these blue-hour subjects first:

Cityscapes - Blue hues enhance neon signage while street and building lights add interesting glow effects against darker skies.

Bodies of water - Long exposures turn ripples and waves into an abstract glow. Reflections become simplified, graphic lines.

Dilapidated buildings - Rapidly fading light creates a sense of mystery. Especially effective alongside peeling paint or broken windows.


When shooting these subjects, the most alluring qualities of blue hour come to life. Master them before expanding your subject repertoire under the violet sky.


3. Daytime Outdoor Photography



While many worship golden dawn and blue dusk’s soft lighting, dismissing daylight hours robs you of immense creative potential.


Brilliant midday light brings its own magic through vibrant color and dimensionality. But it requires finesse to balance exposure and soften any harshness. Mastering it expands the photography calendar.


How to Make the Most of Daytime Photography

The main hurdle? Extreme contrast and shadows. But that intensity of light at its peak also boosts color saturation intensely.


With skill, these pros outweigh the cons:

Rich color - Flowers, plants, clothing, street scenes - everything glows with further saturated enhancement possible during editing.

Stop action - Bright light necessitates fast shutter speeds, freezing sports, wildlife, and other blazing fast subjects crisply.

Textural dimension - Harsh shadows carve out intricate textures not visible in a softer light. Sand, tree bark, and skin pores gain new depth.


To mitigate contrast, use these techniques:

  • Diffusers to soften light’s source

  • Circular reflectors placing subjects in open shade

  • Exposure compensation to prevent blowout


Take time experimenting. When balancing extremes correctly, daylight’s version of “magic hour” emerges any time the sun shines.


Best Subjects for Daytime Photography

Certain subjects truly shine when spotlighted by the overhead midday sun.


Portraits - Find open shade to avoid shadows. Use a reflector to bounce flattering light onto faces. For beginners, understanding the best camera settings for portrait photography can help achieve professional-looking results.

Athletes/Sports - Freeze the peak action of extreme sports, gymnasts, runners, and swimmers.

City Details - The sun’s angle (and color quality) enhances urban textures like brick, glass, and steel.

Nature Close-Ups - Side-lit flowers, insects, and exotic reptiles radiate color and intricate skin patterns.


With practice balancing exposures, daylight hours offer unique and versatile creative opportunities. Don’t overlook them.


4. Overcast Days



It’s easy to feel disappointed by a heavy overcast forecast. But rather than postponing your photo session, embrace this uniquely flattering light.


With the sun obscured behind a blanket of clouds, ultra-diffused light illuminates subjects evenly from all angles. This might sound unexciting, but it produces exceptionally photogenic results once leveraged properly.


Benefits of Soft, Non-Directional Light

Unlike direct sunlight, overcast days bathe subjects in a giant diffuser - the thick cloud layer. This has several important benefits:

Soft shadows - Without harsh shadows obscuring details, intricate textures - and skin imperfections - remain visible. Subtler contours provide depth without distraction.

Balanced exposures - No more wrestling between extreme highlight and shadow detail. Point, expose and shoot.

Vibrant colors - With light evenly filling frame edges without falloff, colors look richly saturated.

Minimized squinting - Diffused light is far less intense on subjects’ eyes - especially important during portraits.


By removing intense directional light, overcast days provide the ultimate flattering light. Next time clouds brew, grab your camera!


Best Subjects for Overcast Days

The even exposure opportunities make overcast days perfect for photographing:

Portraits - Cloud cover creates a giant softbox effect above subjects - quite literally portrait lighting perfection.

Details & Textures - Multi-angle light reveals intricate textures missed on sunnier days - think

cracks, pores, and fine petals/leaves.

Landscapes - The lack of dark shadows lets viewers appreciate the lushness. Fog lifting over mountains adds further intrigue.

Moving Water - Without sun glint, rivers and oceans appear in softer, more soothing gradients.


Don’t dread overcast days. Their subtle beauty offers its own magic when you know how to spot it.


5. Night Photography



As the last hints of dusk light fade, another world of creative possibilities awakens with starry skies, neon cityscapes, lightning storms, and nocturnal wildlife.


But with limited light to brighten dark frames, executing nighttime shots requires rethinking the usual camera approach. Specialized gear, lottery exposures, and compositional nuance quickly become key.


The atmospheric cinematic quality is worth the steep learning curve though.


Gear and Settings for After-Dark Shooting

Even with the latest camera technology, shooting nightscapes and skyscapes requires:

  • Sturdy tripod - Eliminate camera shake on longer exposures without flash.

  • Remote trigger - Further reduces vibration risk compared to pressing the shutter release.

  • Wide aperture lens - Allow as much light as possible into the sensor without overexposing key elements.

  • Higher ISO - Push sensor sensitivity until proper exposure balances against unwanted noise.


Take time to learn optimal aperture, ISO, and shutter duration.


How to Make the Most of Night Photography

In addition to equipment, crafting intriguing nighttime compositions requires thinking about light in new ways.


  • Use color effectively - Incorporate glowing signs, holiday lights, or gels on flashlights to cast color selectively onto dark scenes. This adds interest and guides the viewer’s eyes.

  • Light paint - During long exposures, walk through the scene flashing a light source to selectively illuminate subjects from different angles. Create magical reveals or rim light effects during the exposure.

  • Include artificial light realistically - Position yourself to capture glowing windows, vibrant neon signs, or car light trails to utilize existing colors and shapes. The variety of artificial lights makes cityscapes particularly interesting.


Getting creative with light sources takes night photography to the next level.


Best Subjects for Night Photography

Once fundamental techniques are understood, these classic after-dark subjects make ideal subjects:


Starscapes

Aim lenses upward on clear nights to capture the glittering blanket of stars surrounding the Milky Way galaxy. Research when the galactic core rises in your location for most stars in the frame. To know more about how to photograph the Milky Way, read our article.


Lightning

During thunderstorms, lightning makes a dramatic, spontaneous subject. Use longer exposures to capture multiple strikes in one frame. Consider adding interesting silhouettes like mountains or trees in the foreground.


Glowing Landscapes

Looking downward, introduce artificial light selectively to make specific elements pop while retaining moody darkness across the rest of the scene. Think flashlights lighting tree branches from below or a cottage window in the distance.


Let this initial night shoot list guide you in making intriguing, atmospheric images after the sun dips below the horizon.


Seasonal Considerations for Outdoor Photography


Spring - Soft, Pretty Colors

When spring comes, nature wakes up with gentle pastel colors and new plants growing. This makes spring a great time to take pretty pictures outside.


The cool weather and longer days are nice for photography too. It's fun to take photos of the light green leaves, cute flowers blooming, and nice landscapes.


Summer - Bright, Vibrant Landscapes

In summer, the outdoor world becomes very colorful and alive. The bright blue skies and thick green plants make eye-catching contrast in landscape photos.


Summer is also good for taking pictures of people outdoors. The warm weather gives lots of chances for fun photo sessions outside. Just be careful of the harsh midday sun.


Fall - Golden Light, Rich Colors

For many, fall is the best season to photograph nature outside. As the leaves change, the landscapes fill up with gorgeous warm colors - bright oranges, deep reds, and more.


The low autumn sun makes a natural golden glow that brings out the vibrant colors beautifully. The backgrounds are so pretty this time of year - perfect for landscape and nature shots or portraits.


Winter - Sparkling Snow, Cold Beauty

Winter can be hard for taking pictures outdoors, but it offers unique chances too. Landscapes covered in clean white snow and ice look strikingly cold and minimal. The low sun makes long, dramatic shadows.


Lots of winter sports like skiing and ice skating are awesome photo subjects too. Just be ready for the cold and keep your gear safe from moisture. Dress very warmly!


Tips for Planning Your Outdoor Photography Sessions


Check the Weather Forecast and Position of the Sun

Check the weather forecast for your planned shooting day. Pay attention to cloud cover, rain chances, and temperature. These factors impact lighting conditions.


Also, consider the position of the sun at your shooting time. Use apps to determine the sunlight's precise angle and direction. This allows you to plan for optimal lighting.


Scout Locations Before the Photo Shoot

Try to visit shooting locations ahead of time when possible. This allows you to:

  • Assess the layout

  • Evaluate lighting

  • Identify potential compositions

  • Note any access issues or difficult terrain


Visiting in advance enables you to arrive prepared on shooting day.


Arrive Early for Ideal Lighting Conditions

Arrive early to ensure ideal lighting conditions for your entire session. This provides time to:

  • Set up gear

  • Scout compositions

  • Get positioned for perfect shots


Golden hour and blue hour light changes quickly. An early start allows you to capitalize on peak lighting.


Remain Patient and Adaptable

Outdoor conditions can change unexpectedly. To get great shots:

  • Remain patient when the weather shifts

  • Adjust plans and shots as needed

  • Experiment with different techniques and perspectives


Staying flexible and open-minded will lead to stunning, creative images.


Final Words

Whether predawn’s golden first light, an afternoon thunderstorm, or after midnight under the stars, outdoor conditions provide ever-changing creative inspiration.


But light’s nuanced impact remains constant. Understanding its direction, color, and diffusion through different times of day and weather unlocks richer photographic potential.


Use the tips in this guide to intentionally leverage unique lighting conditions. With practice, stunning memorable images masterfully capture and share nature’s majesty.


Now grab your camera. Pack proper gear. And head out with eyes wide open to light’s magical influence over every outdoor moment worth capturing!


And, as you develop your skills, consider entering photography contests to challenge yourself and gain exposure for your work.

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