Best time to photograph?

kitkatdubs

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I always thought that 2 hours before sunset is the best time for photos, but now I'm not so sure. For example, today I checked sunset which was at 545 so I met my clients at 345 and we started about 4pm. When I was leaving around 5pm, I was noticing how great the sun was, which means it was about 45 mins til sunset. When we got there at 345, the sun was still pretty high, bright and harsh. What is the BEST time to shoot? I live in Northern CA too :)
 

Derrel

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Not sure there is a real BEST time to shoot that is universal...right AT the beach and for 1/4 mile inland the sunrise light and early morning light is fairly dim, due to the Pacific Coast Range mountains, which begin, well...as close as 1/4 mile from the actual ocean water,or less, in many places. So "sun rise" over the Coast Range peaks is wayyyyyy late in the day; if you're along the Interstate 5 corridor, in any of the various valleys from Washington thru California, the earlier AM hours are pretty wonderful in terms of warm, early light that has nice direction to it.

Also, in the winter, the sun is pretty low in the sky, and the sunlight is not exceptionally strong in southern Oregon or northern California. Again...depends somewhat on the actual locale; right here, in this area, we're in the shadow of large hills and the sun left the sky right here at 3:15 PM today...everything goes to blue-tinged, open shade, even though nightfall is still hours away--we're in a massive "shadow zone" in this town! I have spent the last 19 years living in an area where "sun-down" is wayyyyy in front of twilight! But driving westward between 5 and 100 miles makes makes the day multiple hours longer, by getting me out of the shadow of the close hills which are about 500 feet higher than the surrounding low-lying areas!

One of the bigger problems on the far west coast is large concentrations of marine offshore weather coming in off of the Pacific ocean...there can easily be rain clouds that cut the light down drastically on some days, all afternoon long. On other days, there will be NO offshore marine weather, and the sunset hours can be gorgeous, and golden in color.

The "best time" is the time when the light is the way you'd really like it to be for the subjects you have in mind! And that can change with the weather, as well as the local geographic terrain/location.
 

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I always thought that 2 hours before sunset is the best time for photos, but now I'm not so sure. For example, today I checked sunset which was at 545 so I met my clients at 345 and we started about 4pm. When I was leaving around 5pm, I was noticing how great the sun was, which means it was about 45 mins til sunset. When we got there at 345, the sun was still pretty high, bright and harsh. What is the BEST time to shoot? I live in Northern CA too :)
There are many variables, such as time of year, latitude, elevation, weather, etc. It's hard to accurately predict that the light will be good at a particular place and time, so maybe you can offer a second session with your clients and meet later. Just explain to them that the light might be better just a bit later in the day. Then you just have to hope for clear weather.
 

KmH

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The 'golden hours' are the first and last hour or so of each day, if the weather is cooperating.
What counts is your judgement of the light quality and direction as it applies to the light you want for the images you make.

While the sun is very large,it's also about 43,000,000 miles a way making the sun an apparently small light source.
Small light sources make hard/sharp edged and dense/dark shadows.

Portrait photographers use light modifiers to make a light source apparently much larger than the sun.
Large light sources produce shadows that have softer more diffuse edges and less dense/not so dark shadows.
Diffuse shadow edges and not so dark shadows are more flattering to people than hard/sharp edged and dense/dark shadows.

Shooting outside is so very limiting because we have so little control over the ambient light.
Ambient light can change quite rapidly if it's partially cloudy and the clouds are moving fairly rapidly.
None the less, when pro photographers shoot outside they usually still use supplemental light sources and large light modifiers so they at least have complete control of their supplemental light sources.

http://www.adorama.com/alc/0013566/article/Softbox-vs-Umbrella-Which-One-Should-You-Use

 

tirediron

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In addition to the excellent points raised above, let me add one of a more basic nature: Don't go in blind. If you don't KNOW what the conditions are at a specific location at a specific time, go there in advance and find out! Even if you're familiar with the light in a general area, a specific location may have features such as trees, hills, buildings, etc, that cause issues only at certain times of the day or year. Your site recce and pre-shoot consultation will do more to ensure a good session than all the gear in the world!
 

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