Q+A: When Is The Best Time To Take Pictures Outside?

This is the first in a series of questions submitted by clients about photography, my studio, and myself.  I will be answering many of these questions over the next few months, and I’m still looking for more questions to answer.  So don’t be shy.  Ask away! Submit your questions to nathan@nathanlarimer.com with the subject “I Have A Question.”

Michele + Jon, Shakespeare's Garden, Golden Gate Park, 2013

Sunlight behind and at an angle to this bride creates a warm glow around her gown and bouquet.

What is the best time to take pictures outside?  This question was submitted by Mindy from San Diego, California.

There really isn’t a best time to take pictures outside, but it is a critical decision a photographer has to make.  This is because the time of day, year, and the weather all affect the light that you are working with.  So deciding on a good time to shoot outside depends on the type of light you want to shoot.

Weddings, Olympia's Valley Estate, Petaluma, California, 2013

The fog in this picture creates a moody, even, and indirect type of lighting.

I’ll try not to be too technical here, but I feel that the type of light you are working with is one of the primary aesthetic elements effecting emotion in a picture.  For example, bright sun in the middle of the day can create a dynamic energy filled image while a dim overcast day can evoke a calm, peaceful, or even melancholy feeling.  (See the two images below for examples.)

For much of my work, I prefer a soft sunlight either in the early morning or late in the afternoon.  This is because that type of light is often perceived as pleasing aesthetically and the emotions it evokes can be broadly interpreted to satisfy a variety of viewers.  It’s also much easier to expose properly and rarely needs the addition of artificial light.  Like a flash.  This is why I almost always schedule on-location portrait shoots in the late afternoon or early morning.

Fortunately, here in coastal Northern California the weather is pretty nice year round.  It rains some in the winter, but its never really too cold to shoot outside.  Here in Sonoma County the grass grows tall and many wildflowers come out in the winter and spring, like the iconic yellow mustard flowers in a vineyard.  So the landscape this time of year can really create some unique pictures.  I wouldn’t hesitate to schedule shoots outside the entire year.  With that said, I do shoot indoors as well.