Mastering how to work with natural light is one of the fundamentals of photography. Contrary to popular belief, you can take good photos even when it’s not the “golden hour” or when there’s no available light. Even as a beginner or aspiring photographer, you can definitely shoot at any time of day and still achieve good quality output. You simply have to learn how to distinguish the characteristics of the lighting that you get during different times of the day so that you can optimize your specific conditions and use the right camera settings or photography tools to help you achieve the best photo possible.
What are the different times of day for photography?
- Golden Hour
- High Noon
- Afternoon and Mid-Morning
- Blue Hour
Alternatively referred to as the “magic hour,” the golden hour is the period shortly after sunrise and before sunset. Many photographers see it as the best time to take photos as it is when the sun gives off a softer, reddish-pink light that effortlessly makes for dramatic and artistic images that are perfect for various photography niches like portraiture, landscape, and wedding photography.
Taking photos during other times of the day may require you to use additional lighting equipment and other accessories to achieve the color, saturation, and exposure that you want for your image. But during the golden hour, you get your desired effect—as well as a gorgeous wash of color—with little or no help from any additional gear.
Direct, downward lighting produced during midday or high noon creates photos that look flat, thus making photographers shy away from shooting during this time of the day. The effect of harsh lighting in photos is due to the fact that the light is undiffused, which often discourages many photographers from shooting outdoors during this time.
However, this can actually be a good time for shooting subjects with reflective surfaces, like bodies of water or glass. Water normally presents unattractive reflections during other times of the day when light is bouncing from different angles. When shooting at noon, light penetrates deeper into the water, making it appear more transparent.
Afternoon and Mid-Morning
This time of the day is best for general photography as it is when the sky casts a slightly more yellow and subtle light that enhances skin tones, reduces blown out highlights, and eliminates harsh shadows.
With exposure worries out of the way, it’s perfect for taking photos of all sorts of subjects and sceneries. However, you’ll still have to pay attention to proper framing and the composition of your photos because lighting often appears flat and doesn’t highlight the features of the subject.
Also known as dawn, dusk, or twilight, the blue hour is the period before sunrise and after sunset. During this time, contrast is typically low, and the lighting casts a cool pastel undertone. The direction of the sun’s rays comes from below the horizon so lighting is more subdued.
The blue hour occurs only for a couple of minutes, so you have to be quick when capturing photos during this period. Images occasionally appear a little too blue, so warm filter gels and the tungsten white balance feature on the camera are often used to neutralize this.
Shooting at night presents a different kind of challenge for a photographer, since sunlight is completely absent during this time. But thanks to customizable camera settings, shooters can capture beautiful and unique nighttime photos of the city and starry skies by taking long-exposure shots.
The absence of natural lighting can also give you some of the best dramatic portraits and glamour shots, since you have the freedom to choose your light source—car lights, street lamps, external flashes, what have you—and direct the way the light falls on your subject.
GuruShots Photography Challenge: Favorite Time of the Day
Got exceptionally good photos taken during your favorite time of the day? If you’re 13 years old and above, join the photography challenge that we at Adorama.com, together with the folks at GuruShots.com, have put together for you and share your best shots.
All you have to do is submit a maximum of four (4) photos showcasing your best attempts in capturing your preferred subjects or scenes during your Favorite Time of Day—whether it be during the golden hour, blue hour, high noon, or at night. If your entry gets chosen, you can win prizes worth up to $400.
Here’s a list of the prizes you can win:
- Top Photographer Award – $200 Adorama Gift Card
- Top Photo Award – GuruShots bundle with 20 Swaps, 15 AutoFills & 10 Keys
- Guru’s Top Pick Award – GuruShots bundle with 20 Swaps, 15 AutoFills & 10 Keys
You can learn more about the contest rules by scrolling further below. But first, here are more tips you can use to optimize each specific period of the day for shooting beautiful, well-exposed photos:
Shooting During Your Favorite Time of Day:
We now know that we have more creative control of the photos that we take during the golden hour, high noon, mid-morning or afternoon, blue hour, and nighttime. On top of knowing how to make use of the natural advantages of shooting during these specific times. there are ways that we can further improve our photography style and the quality of our photos taken while shooting during these times of day.
Tips for Shooting During the Golden Hour
Shoot in RAW format
Should anything go wrong—especially in terms of exposure and white balance—while shooting your subject, having your image files in digital RAW format instead of compressed JPEG will give you more control and freedom to make major edits during post-processing, since all the pertinent details of your photo will be retained.
Set your white balance manually
The temperature and color of the sky during the golden hour will change by the minute. As you shoot, you’ll get more of that unnatural yellow undertone in your images. Instead of choosing between fixed white balance options like Fluorescent, Daylight, Cloudy, or even Auto, you’re better off setting your white balance manually so you can get the colors in your photos as accurate as possible.
Choose the best times for shooting
To yield a more pleasant and even softer effect for your photos, it’s usually advised to take your shots 15 minutes before the golden hour ends for mornings and 15 minutes after for afternoons. The reddish-pink hue won’t be as strong, but it effectively prevents excess light from washing out your subject.
You may also want to chase after the morning golden hour, which is clearer than the afternoon golden hour due to reduced haze in the atmosphere. At the same time, it has a cooler undertone that can enhance the color of your photos.
Tips for Shooting During High Noon
Minimize unsightly shadows
As much as possible, we refrain from placing subjects in positions that could possibly create unnecessary shadows in the frame. Shooting portraits and objects during high noon makes this incredibly difficult since the light source comes from above, thus creating blown out foreheads, sunken eyes, and harsh downward shadows everywhere.
One approach you can take is to have your subjects face downwards or upwards just enough for the light source to properly expose and bring out prominent facial features. Or, you can use a reflector to bounce harsh lighting and create a more diffused fill light to eliminate shadows on your subject’s face.
Shooting scenes at this time will also give you high contrast, washed-out landscapes, but neutral density or polarizing filters can help you improve your color saturation, make image elements pop, and reduce the dynamic range in your noontime photos.
Experiment with your photographic approach
Another way you can make this type of lighting work is by focusing on various aspects of the image instead of just on your subjects. You can choose to show a different perspective, specific details of a subject that you can zoom in on, or just make the shadows work for you. See how you can approach around your subject under this kind of natural light or come up with a composition—perhaps dramatic or abstract—where the presence of high-contrast elements in your photos can be appreciated and perceived as art.
Change your focal point
Despite midday lighting being difficult to work with, it has one major advantage—it brings out the many different, stunning, and brilliant colors that we don’t often see together during any other time of the day. Take advantage of this by take photos of colorful surroundings.
Should you wish to include a subject in your shot, you can also frame it so that it takes up only a small portion of the frame, by either zooming out or placing it in the background. This way, the audience’s primary focus will be on the bigger and more colorful negative space in the photo, instead of on your subject.
Tips for Shooting During Afternoon or Mid-Morning
Select your background carefully
When choosing a background for your subject, make sure that it complements your subject’s appearance or features well. Diffused, natural lighting during the afternoon or mid-morning does this effortlessly, but it’s a different story when you use the sky, sun, or reflective and bright backdrops as your subject’s background. You’re likely going to end up with shots of your subject blending in with the bright backlight (especially if they have bright-colored hair and clothes) or appearing as a silhouette instead of giving them a lovely rim light.
If you really want that slightly washed out look, you can counteract bright backlight with ample fill light—with a flash or reflector—in front of your subject. This also ensures that there will be enough contrast between your subject and background, since not having enough of it among elements within the frame can sometimes result in a dull-looking photo.
Use the spot meter
Shooting portraits under afternoon and mid-morning lighting can sometimes be a challenge, especially when you’re trying to keep your subjects properly exposed or hoping to achieve that hazy, slightly washed-out look. In this case, you can use a spot meter to manage the probability of overexposure. This is also particularly important when shooting faces of your subjects up close.
Control lights and shadows
Aside from properly exposing your subject with lights or camera exposure settings, you also have to consider the position of your subject and the shadows casted within your frame so that they do not interfere with your shot. Before you click the shutter button, check if there are shadows hitting prominent parts of the face like the eyes, nose, and lips.
When shooting multiple subjects, make sure that no shadow is hitting another so it doesn’t end up ruining the appearance of your subjects and distracting your viewers from your focal point.
If all else fails, just fake the “golden hour” effect. Here’s a helpful tutorial from Mark Wallace on faking golden hour lighting:
Tips for Shooting During the Blue Hour
Use the Shutter Priority Mode
Shooting during the blue hour is a lot like shooting in the dark of night—light will be your main element and saving grace. In order to capture somewhat brighter photos before sunrise and after sunset, you’ll need to rely on your camera’s shutter to allow a greater amount of light to enter the lens. Under this mode, you can set the shutter speed to your own preference (typically between one to six seconds) and avoid getting underexposed photos.
Shoot as steadily as possible
Shooting under low-light conditions can make it difficult to get good quality photos as is. You’ll definitely need all the help you can get to alleviate factors that can contribute to poor image quality, which in this case is camera shake from holding your camera or manually clicking the shutter. You’ll need to use a tripod or monopod as well as a remote shutter or your camera’s timer to prevent motion blur and help you produce clear and sharp long exposure images.
Capture more available light
Since there is barely a hint of sunlight during this time, you’ll mostly get blueish photos during the blue hour. Including parts of a scene where there is some visible light, such as cityscapes, introduces more (hopefully warm and contrasting) colors that will add life to your image and make it appear more dynamic.
For more tips on shooting during the blue hour, check out this quick tutorial by David Bergman:
Tips for Shooting During Nighttime
Capture the unseen
The best thing about shooting in the dark of night and having a highly-capable camera is the ability to see what the naked eye can’t. Instead of sticking with cityscapes and night skies for your nighttime photography, go ahead and use even slower shutter speeds to capture sceneries where there is seemingly no available light. Allow your lens and camera sensor to do its magic and deliver you some of the most interesting, peaceful, and even desolate shots of the ocean, mountains, or deserts.
Experiment with exposure settings
Unlike when shooting during the blue hour, shooting at night often requires the use of much longer shutter speeds, higher ISOs, or even infrared filters to be able to gather enough light for your image. You’ll be surprised how the difference of a just few seconds of exposure can give you different results. For these reasons, it will definitely take you some time to understand how different exposure settings can affect your shot and give you your desired results. Invest your time in night photography and you’ll be amazed with the quality of photos that you can deliver.
Use motion blur to your advantage
To be able to achieve a sensible nighttime shot, you’ll obviously need to use much slower shutter speeds and accept the presence of possible motion blur, depending on your choice of scenery. Instead of going for photos that are sharp all across the frame, you may want to be creative and capture images with moving cars, clouds, or stars. You can even use light play using flashlights or even fireworks to create artistic shots during nighttime.
Here’s an AdoramaTV episode (featuring Doug McKinlay) to help you achieve this trick:
Join the GuruShots Favorite Time of the Day Challenge!
- Open to participants 13 years old and above
- The contest runs until September 19, 2017.
- Only up to four (4) photo entries are allowed per participant.
- All entries must be at least 700 x 700 pixels in resolution, must be JPEG in format, and should not exceed 25MB in size.
- Use a unique subject, background, and foreground for each photo you’ll submit.
- Only submit images that are relevant to the theme of the particular challenge you are joining
- Do not submit photos with content that are sexually explicit, obscene, provocative, or may be regarded objectionable or inappropriate
- All images submitted must be original and do not violate any copyright, right of privacy, image right, or any other right of any third party
- Winners will be chosen through a “blind voting” among GuruShots members.
- The following number of votes must be reached in order to qualify for each rank below :
- Popular – 50 votes
- Skilled – 250 votes
- Premier – 600 votes
- Elite – 1200 votes
- All Star – 1950 votes
Stay tuned for more photo challenges and tips!
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