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Sunday, October 25, 2015

What Is the Best Time of the Day for Photography?

Introduction

This is a question I see repeated very often - Amateur Nikon readers also ask me this quite regularly. "What is the best time for photography?" or "When should I go out and take pictures?" In reality, the answer is not very simple. Many of you might have heard that you should avoid taking pictures between 12:00-16:00 (the so-called "Devil's hour" in photography). Is this true? And when? Let's see if we can get to the bottom of this

It's All about Scope

Let's start with what I just mentioned above. Yes, indeed, taking pictures between 12:00 and 16:00 (on a sunny day) should be avoided, if you're shooting portraits in natural light and are going for softness.

Let's see this with an example.

Taken at about 14:00 in direct sunlight


It's obvious that the light in the photo above isn't very suitable for portrait photography in natural light (here: direct sunlight). There is excessive contrast between highlights and shadows, which creates a harsh, non-attractive look for portraits. Compare with the photo below, taken early in the morning.



Taken at about 9:00 in the morning. The sunlight is weaker, and the contrast is easier to control


But what about if you're actually going for a harsh-looking result? Consider the following picture.

Yeah, it's harsh. But that was the purpose!
Here the choice was deliberate. The idea was not to create a soft portrait but rather an urban, quasi-industrial look. Now, the choice to shoot in the strong afternoon sunlight is justified.


Another example: What if you're taking landscape photos? Let's see two examples.

Evening light makes for smooth, calm compositions
The high sun makes for contrast, saturation, and eye-popping vividness - provided you know how to position yourself. If the sun was against me, this would have been a disaster.

As you can see, also in landscapes it's all about what you're trying to achieve. Do you want to create a calm, serene composition with warmth and a sense of stillness? Shoot in the late evening or early morning (and position yourself so that the dynamic range of the scene helps you: shooting against the sun will be almost as bad at 9:00 as it will be at 14:00). Do you, instead, go for sharpness, contrast, in-your-face vividness? Indeed it might be a good idea to actually prefer shooting during the high noon.

Conclusion

I have said this so many times, but I'm happy to repeat it once more: although human nature pushes us to seek simple answers to complex matters, there aren't any one-fits-all solutions in photography. Asking "what are the best camera settings to use", "which is the best Nikon lens", or "What is the best time for photography" can only have one and one answer only:
It depends on what you're trying to achieve
It's as simple as that, folks. Nobody can enter your mind and extract your unconscious artistic vision or photographic goal in general. You must first have a clear idea of what it is you're trying to do, then you can try to find the tools, procedures, or technique that will help you achieve your goals. "What is the best time of the day for photography"? Well, it depends!



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