Useful Photography Tip #188: The Best Time of Day to Take Outdoor Portraits Is…Anytime!

Want more Useful Photography Tips? Click here.

If you’re one of those folks looking for that golden, sunkissed look to your portraiture then what you genuinely want is the entire period of the golden hour–and ideally before it. In big cities like in New York, sundown can last for a number of hours. The sun gets really nice and warm, so when combined with 5600K white balance (or auto, I guess) you can make skin tones really pop. But if you’re the type of person that can’t always wait for the sun to give you what nature does best, then seriously consider that the best time to take outdoor portraits is truthfully any time of the day.

Seriously, Chris? Yes. I’ve been doing it for years under harsh sun and under no sun with lots of cloud coverage. The best thing I tell everyone is to back or side light your subject and to head for the shade. The shade is so valuable for a number of great reasons:

  • It provides even lighting and so it gives that shadowless look
  • Combine it with ISO 400 or ISO 160 and you’ll get a very hand-holdable shutter speed
  • If your subject is wearing vibrant colors, then they’re going to really pop from the background
  • Combine the color popping effect with depth of field (bokeh) and you’re going to rock that portrait session

Of course, this is the method you use if you don’t want to carry any gear around with you like diffusers, reflectors, etc. But if you bring those things (and even diffusion umbrellas) you can shoot any time of the day you wish. It’s all about finding the light and softening it to make your subject look more flattering. Until you learn how to master natural light with whatever is available around you though, I genuinely recommend staying away from working with other items.

Oh yeah, and learn to see and pay attention to color in a scene.