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4 Best Time to Take Pictures Outside for Your Portraits

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Knowing the best time of the day to shoot is essential if you want good natural portraits. The natural light is your key light, and its quality fades by the hour.

Outdoor portraits are associated with fine art photography. They help convey an individual's emotions, personality, and identity, by use of the surrounding ambiance. To depict these aspects, shoot in magic hours.

Magic hours are times, one hour before and after sunset, usually lasting for two hours. Below are the specific times and tips for how you can consistently identify and use the hours for good outdoor portraits.

woman stands under sky

Photo by 10bits Studio on unsplash

I. Golden Hour

The golden hour is one of the best times for photography. It is a short time, immediately after sunrise or before sunset. The golden aspect is because the sun is low in the sky, providing a soft, warm, directional and golden light in the provided time. Moreover, the sun's brightness isn't low enough to significantly limit your shutter speed.

With its maximum utilization, you get quality images communicating effectively about your subject. Here are tips on how to shoot portraits at the time.

Aspects to Follow When Shooting in Golden Hour

1. Choose suitable camera settings: For portraits, setting an aperture of between f/1.8 to f/2.8 is ideal and set you ISO 100 or the lowest your camera can go. However, use a narrow aperture to focus on all of the faces if you plan on doing a number of shoots.

2. Right timing: It is critical to check the weather forecast before planning an outdoor shoot. Golden hours rely on the availability of natural light, and are dependent on a clear sky for light reflection. Plan your portrait shoot around the nature of the sky and the weather forecast.

3. Perfect positioning: Golden hour photography is all about the available lighting. For better portraits, ensure your subject is placed perfectly in your shot. Here is how you creatively use the lighting in this magic hour.

    woman in shadow

    Photo by Aiony Haust on unsplash

      • Front light:The soft light favors the outlook of the subject. A fully lit portrait provides the explicit details of a model. Additionally, your subject is comfortable looking straight at the lens, changing poses, and displaying genuine emotions.
      • Backlight: Backlight occurs when you place your subject in front of the sun. It creates a soft, warm, hazy, and glowing effect. To avoid your portrait looking like a silhouette, ensure to meter off your subject rather than the background.
      • Rim light effect: It occurs when the light isn't necessarily directly behind but rather is behind the subject at an angle. Creatively using a relatively dark background creates a halo effect. You'll have to experiment until you find the sweet spot, but getting down low is a good place to start.
      • Haze: Do not be afraid to let some light into your lens to achieve a haze effect. However, overexposing the lens to sunlight jeopardizes the quality of your portraits.
      • Achieving Sun Flare: The golden hour's sunlight suits the flare effect. Allow the stray lights to hit the lens to achieve this effect.

      sunshine shining on the girl

       Photo by Allef Vinicius on unsplash

        1. Avoid unwanted shadows: Golden hour usually provides the lighting at an angle, making the occurrence of shadows rare. However, avoid vertical lighting on your model, as it introduces shadows on their face.

        2. Use of the sidelight: Sunlight at this hour hits the subject from one side, forming a shadow on the other side. The aspects of texture and depth are achieved as the contrast feature is introduced in the portrait.

        II. Midday

          Shooting in the midday sun is challenging. Normally, the sun is regarded as a good light source, but the afternoon sun makes it difficult to achieve the right settings. Moreover, the aspects of harsh shadows and glare highlights are common in a midday shoot. Here are tips to perfect your portraits if you plan a portrait shoot at this hour.

          Tips on Harnessing the Sun for Midday Portraits

          woman in sunshine

          Photo by Fly D on unsplash

          1. Using a reflector:

          At noon, the sun is overhead, making harsh shadows automatic on one's chin, eyes, and nose. The reflector, usually with a white or silver/shiny surface, reflects light toward your model. Position your reflector in a way it compliments your model(s) look. Additionally, use your surroundings as reflectors; for instance, the beach, a water body, and bright walls are great natural reflectors to utilize in your portrait shoots.

          2. Put your model(s) under a shade: Finding a shade sounds like an obvious solution for any noon shoots. For midday outdoor portraits, use versions of shade such as using umbrellas, standing under natural shade, or instructing the model to block off themself creatively. The latter helps bring out your subject's identity and sensitivity.

          3. Using a Scrim for light diffusion: Place the scrim between the light source and the subject to achieve a well-lit pic and a soft effect.

          sunshine shining on the woman

          Photo by Sonnie Hiles on unsplash

          4. Covering the eyes: It is somewhat uncomfortable to model in the midday sun. Covering your subject's eyes is a start in making them comfortable and natural throughout the shoot. However, whichever items/clothing are used, ensure they don't ruin the general theme.

          5. Backlighting: With the sun relatively overhead, backlighting is possible. Move around to capture from different angles and get different points of view.

          6. Investing in necessary filters: At times, you'll require different filters, such as the density filter, which helps in protecting the subject's highlights. Also, a polarizing filter is important when shooting in harsh light, especially in maintaining the background's color. However, be careful when using it, as it sometimes darkens the sky more than intended.

          7. Embrace the high contrast: Bright portraits are rather unpleasant. Alternatively, adapt the high contrast to achieve cool artistic photos. For a cool effect, place your subjects directly under a shadow or front light your subjects to highlight interesting details. Also, use harsh sidelights for an intense facial impact.

            woman in shadow of leaves

            Photo by Juri Gianfrancesco on unsplash

            III. Cloudy Day

            Proper lighting is key in photography. Cloudy weather has insufficient lighting, thus a challenge for any photographer. However, it is still a magic hour when utilized creatively for portrait shoots. Below are tips on shooting quality portraits in overcast weather.

            Factors to Consider When Shooting Portraits on a Cloudy Day

            woman sits beside the river

            Photo by Karsten Winegeart on unsplash

            1. Be keen on your camera's fundamentals: Unlike the outright aspects, aperture, shutter speed, and focal length are normally set at any given point. Aspects like white balance, filtering effect, gray card settings, auto levels, and tone settings are rarely changed. In such sensitive weather, switch these settings to get better results from your gloomy surroundings.

            2. Shoot from slightly above your subject: It is hard to harness light for this magic hour. Shooting above eye level up is a perfect way to light the subject up. The eyes, which are hard to focus on in low light, are lit. Use any means possible to get higher than your subject if they are bigger than you.

            3. Use your surroundings for directional light: Overcast lighting is flat. Be creative with your surroundings to create dimensions that make your portrait more valuable. To achieve it, block some of the lighting available with objects like trees and buildings, and direct it towards your subject. Also, use gadgets such as reflectors and a scrim to create directional lighting.

            A woman wearing a hat

            Photo by Siyavash Lolo on unsplash

            4. Add a pop color: A bright color is different in a cloudy day portrait shoot. It can be in the form of props or clothing. Also, a colorful background helps neutralize a dull scene.

            5. Creativity when including the sky/clouds: Find unique clouds that provide an additional aspect like depth to your image. Finding one in which the sun illuminates itself is an added advantage. Nevertheless, ensure that your subject is well lit before focusing on adding an aspect of the clouds.

            6. Capture reflections and movements: A photo with an aspect of comparison or mobility is a detailed picture. To get a reflection, use wet surfaces or waterbody to capture full-body or half-body, together with the headshot. To freeze movement, use a fast shutter speed, and to blur it, use a slow shutter speed. Both methods make any image of a cloudy day look more creative and interesting.

             7. Blue Hour

              woman in shadow

              Photo by Kylo on unsplash

              Lastly, the blue hour is the twilight period, in the morning or night, when the sun is at a significant depth below the horizon. Depending on the weather and location, it lasts between 20 and 40 minutes. It is a beautiful time to take your portraits, and here are tips and things to consider when taking portraits in a blue hour.

              Planning for a Portrait Shoot in the Blue Hour

              woman is taking photos

              Photo by Leah Hetteberg on unsplash

              1. Use manual settings: A camera that allows you to adjust these settings is most suitable for this hour. The Period is dark, thus needing a longer shutter speed to better capture the moment in perfect exposure. Additionally, set your aperture as narrow to better figure out your landscape.

              2. Know your location ahead of time: As observed, the magic hours last for a short period. Understanding the location gives you a chance to be creative in adding props and properly positioning your subject and camera. You can also save on time and get more minutes to experiment with your model.

                The woman is pushing her glasses

                Photo by Peyman Farmani on unsplash

                3. Inclusion of additional lighting: Unlike other magic hours, it is relatively darker. The natural light is enough for your photos, but the inclusion of an artificial source helps pinpoint details and comes in handy when capturing movements. Next time you wonder how to spice up a blue hour portrait shoot, add light and see the results.

                4. Use a remote or your camera's self-timer: A blurry image is an added disadvantage in an already lowly lit portrait. It also happens even with a tripod in stabilizing the camera, where an action like a click of the shutter button destabilizes the camera. Using a remote or self-timer eliminates unnecessary camera movements and makes the image sharp and focused.

                5. Shoot in RAW mode: Shooting the portraits in RAW over JPEG allows you to adjust the photo's outlook freely in post-editing. Blue hour photos are lowly lit and require these edits as they are usually the difference between quality photos and average photos.

                sunshine shining on the woman

                Photo by Matthew Hamilton on unsplash


                Lighting is key in determining the best time to take pictures outside. Some magic hours, therefore, are easier to shoot in than others. As a professional photographer, understanding aspects is essential. The above dynamics will come in handy if you plan for any portrait event. Additionally, these aspects are also applicable to other genres of photography.

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