Best Light for Outdoor Photo Sessions – Tips & Tricks

Desi & Camilo | Wedding Photographer Washington DC – Baltimore MD – Northern Virginia

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Last week I shared Jason’s headshots in downtown Annapolis, and in that post I mentioned how even though it was an overcast day, I was excited to take outdoor photos.  I explained that cloudy days actually provide some of the best light for outdoor photo sessions due to the way the clouds diffuse sunlight. 

I have heard from client after client that they were concerned when they saw clouds in the sky the day of our photo shoot. It shocks people to hear that sunshine really isn’t the best light for outdoor photo sessions – at least not in the middle of the day when we sometimes have to schedule shoots. But I am here to tell you – bright, mid-day sunlight is the bane of (most) photographer’s existence. We’re kind of like vampires: we want to shoot away from harsh sunlight.

Most people have heard of magic hour and associate that with the time right before sunset, and I admit, that’s when I try to schedule most of my photo shoots. But other times of day & types of light exist & create perfect conditions for photos. 

1. Overcast Skies

Overcast skies create diffused light. True, for most photographers, the golden hour is the preferred time of day & type of light in which to take outdoor photos, but that is such a short period of time in any given day.  If you come across a cloudy day – and I’m talking a grey, overcast sky – you can pretty much shoot all day, anywhere you like.  That’s what I like to call hitting the jackpot!

The clouds diffuse the harsh light from the sun, essentially eliminating stark contrast between highlights & shadows. On overcast days we still get light, but it’s an even light, which is perfect for photos!

Here are some examples of photos I took on overcast days using that lovely, even diffused light – some of the best light for outdoor photo sessions.

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2. Open Shade

As I said, I prefer to shoot during magic hour, so I try to schedule shoots for the evening hours, right before sunset.  But there have been a few occasions where clients had a preferred date in mind & need to shoot smack dab in the middle of the day due to a variety of reasons. I like to accommodate my clients’ schedules, so first, I start crossing my fingers for an overcast day for their session, but second, I suggest we shoot in a place that has plenty of open shade.

Mid-day sunlight creates harsh contrast between highlight & shadow, which is not flattering on a person’s face!  It creates shadows in places like below your eyes or under your nose.  Who wants to look like they have bags under their eyes?!  Not me!  Shooting in the shade offers a nice even light across my clients’ faces, and we can avoid shadows or bright spots created from the sun shining directly above our heads.

Here are some examples of photos during the same sessions that were taken in the middle of the day in either direct or partial sunlight and then in the shade for comparison.

Best Light for Outdoor Photo Sessions (1)2016-05-09_0004In this photo, the light is beautiful on her face (left), but it’s straddling the line where there are still strong shadows to be cast if you don’t watch positioning (see the flower bud shadow in the middle of her forehead?). On the right, we’re in the shade & there are no harsh shadows to be seen!

3. Sunrise

I’ve mentioned magic hour a few times already as providing the absolute best light for outdoor photo sessions, but did you know there are TWO golden hours in a day? There’s the evening magic hour, just before sunset, and then there’s the morning magic hour, just after sunrise. The evening magic hour is my favorite, but on those occasions I’ve been able to shoot first thing in the morning, I’ve definitely come to understand what all the fuss is about!

Morning magic hour light is unique.  It’s unlike sunset light and it’s so different than any other type of light you’re going to see at another point in the day. It’s like the earth is waking up – it’s still got the sleep in its eyes.  It’s soft, dewy, sometimes steamy, and even sparkly. It’s definitely worth waking up extra early to capture this mystical, perfect magic hour light.

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One Comment on “Best Light for Outdoor Photo Sessions – Tips & Tricks”

  1. Pingback: Why To Plan Your Wedding Around Magic Hour | Rachel E.H. Photography

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