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The Best Time of Day to Take Outdoor Photos | Arlington Heights Photographer

Updated: Mar 21

What is something most photo clients don't think much about but it's the first thing I consider when scheduling every session?


In my seven years as a professional photographer, I have taken photos in every lighting situation you can imagine. In this blog, I wanted to explain to you the differences in the quality of light as it changes based on the time of day. Below, I am featuring a set of pictures taken at 12 PM full sun and photos taken during sunset at the same location to compare.

Can you tell which was taken at which time? How would you describe the differences in the lighting?

The time of day you choose to schedule your session does play a factor into the type and quality of light you will see in your photos. Below, I will do another comparison from the same two sessions:

These photos above were taken in front of the same trees (different season). The biggest difference between the two is the lighting. Midday light can create harsh shadows and light spots as well as color casts affecting skin tones. The first photo was taken at noon and the second was during sunset. The noon photo session could not be scheduled for a different time or location because of their communion event schedule that day. Ideally, if you are looking for that soft, glowing light - you will want to schedule your photo session during sunset. That exact time changes everyday, but I will happily suggest the best time to start your photo session based on your session date.

Again, the photos above are taken at the same location but the first is noon and the second is sunset.

What Happens If A Sunset Session Is Not Possible?

Occasionally, clients will want to schedule a session that is not at sunset. A common reason for this would be the wedding or event line up for the day schedules us as having to take photos in the middle of the day. Another very common reason is toddler or baby bedtime routines wouldn't allow for an evening session. If this is the case, I will do my best to accommodate whatever time works for your family's schedule. It is preferrable to schedule the session farthest from noon in either direction. Basically, we want the sun to be lower in the horizon and not straight above us during the session. The earliest in the morning that you can realistically do the session (sunrise is the second best time of day for photos) works well too. Most clients with babies and toddlers who can't work in a sunset session are able to do an early morning session which is great! The priority is to make sure the tots are well rested and ready to give their best smiles! If you can't do a sunset session, I would also recommend locations to you that I know are better suited to off peak lighting times for best results.

Below are photos taken around 9 / 10 AM and 3 /4 PM that are strategically placed at specific locations I've chosen to give us the best chance with the light:

Even when harsh light is unavoidable, a professional photographer should know how access the lighting and setting at hand. Below is a sample of photos taken at 12 PM in full sun at a bridal shower. We were limited to this patio area and had just a few minutes to take portraits. I took the first photo on purpose as a reference to show how noon sun creates harsh shadows. Luckily, I was able to find an area nearby that I knew would create softer light in the same location which is seen in the second photo.

What If It's Cloudy For My Session?

Clouds are actually my favorite! Clouds disperse the light in a way that is soft and very flattering. Additionally clouds, allow me to take photos from different perspectives than a sunny day because the location of the sun is less important. We would still plan to do the session around sunset. Below are photos that are taken on a cloudy day.

The Takeaway

When possible, it is ideal to schedule your session during sunset or sunrise for prime lighting. Scheduling your outdoor session during sunset will give the soft, flattering, and glowing light that most people think of with photo sessions. If you are not able to schedule your session during sunset, we have options. We can choose a time farthest from noon that still works for you and I can suggest locations that would work best for that time of day to maximize on the lighting we have. What I've illustrated in this blog post is that the timing of your session will affect the quality of light we are working with during your session.

Jessica is a portrait, family, wedding, and event photographer located in Arlington Heights, Illinois. She services the Northwest Suburbs and Chicagoland suburbs.

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