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What is the Best Time of Day for Outdoor Photos?

February 1, 2023

Filed in: Tips

When you sit down to book your family photos, one of the first questions you might run into is: what is the best time of day for outdoor photos? How can you begin to look at your calendar if you’re not sure what the best time is for your family photos? Are we talking mornings? EARLY mornings? Afternoons? Or later in the day? Today I’m answering all of your burning questions about what time of day is best for your outdoor family photos…so read on.


Family of three in an orchard at the best time of day for outdoor photos - 7pm

An evening family photo in the summertime



What is the Best Time of Day for Outdoor Photos?

If you Google “What is the best time of day for outdoor photos,” chances are you’ll get a whole lot of answers about something called Golden Hour. So you might say to your photographer: “I need a Golden Hour session.” And it might work out just fine, even if you weren’t totally sure what you were asking for. (PS: keep reading if you’re not sure what Golden Hour is).


But is it necessary?


What is Golden Hour in Photography?

Golden Hour is what photographers call the hour just before true sunset, when the light takes on a warm, hazy quality in the atmosphere. We can wrap our subjects in the glow of the sun. We can let a bit of haze leak into the frame, giving the photos a dream-like quality. The harsh light of the afternoon turns softer and more delicious in that hour before sunset. I typically don’t use true Golden Hour because I find my clients don’t love the extra warmth and haze in their portraits, but it’s an absolute dream for landscape photos.


When is Golden Hour?

In the summer in Oregon, Golden Hour is 8pm. In the winter, Golden Hour is closer to 4:30pm. The key thing to remember about Golden Hour in Oregon is that because of heavy PNW cloud cover, we often don’t get a true Golden Hour. Instead, it gets dark a little earlier because the clouds block out that fading light. So Golden Hour sessions typically take place in the summertime, although a crisp, clear winter day can produce beautiful Golden Hour images too, like the one below.


family of three during golden hour in winter at beacon rock

Taken during an early February Golden Hour!



When you SHOULDN’T take Golden Hour Family Photos

Here’s the deal: in the summertime, when you’re most likely for the PNW sun to peek out from behind the clouds for truly glowing Golden Hour light, Golden Hour happens around (9pm). And that, if you have kids, is LATE. Like desperately late. If they’re particularly small, it’s past-witching-hour-and-into-pure-chaos late.

So if you have infants or young toddlers joining your family photos and you’ve got your heart set on everyone-smiling-at-the-camera photos, you probably should NOT book a Golden Hour session this summer. That’s just asking for trouble.

Now, are you a go-with-the-flow type of person, happy to let things go deliciously off-course, let children fuss and not smile, and allow real moments to unfold? Are you really well-versed in adjusting snack and nap schedules? Are you willing to let the photos show life happen? These moments can be so beautiful and honest–but you’ve got to be on board. For many of my clients with especially young children, a 9pm session is a no-go, which is why Golden Hour is not necessarily the best time of day for their outdoor photos. But for others, it can result in beautifully honest photos that show their family as it was at that point in time–and in particularly beautiful light.


So then, when IS the perfect time of day for family photos outside?

Evening sessions are a true winner, every time. But, it’s no secret that I adore early morning sessions, particularly in the summertime. And for many families, 8am is the perfect time of day for outdoor photos. We miss the heat of the day in summertime, allowing you to have more flexibility in your wardrobe choices. Kids are less fussy because they’re well-rested. Everyone’s less fussy because they’re not overheated or worn out from the day.


family of four in the orchard at luscher farm at the best time of day for outdoor photos with young children - 8am

A 9am outdoor family photo session


Are morning sessions a good idea in spring and fall?

Morning sessions can absolutely work in the spring and the fall. Because of shorter days and more cloud cover, we may be able to schedule a little later in the morning. 9am is the best time of day for outdoor photos in the spring and fall.


A 9am outdoor family photo session


Is Afternoon a Good Time of Day for Outdoor Photos?

The only time I truly recommend we avoid if possible is the half hour or so when the sun is directly above us in the sky. This is between noon and 1pm, depending on the season. We can make it work, but for the most magical light we’ll want to schedule for early morning or just a few hours before sunset.


What Time of Evening is Best for Photos?

Evenings are always an excellent time for family photos, which is why most of my availability calendar holds evening sessions. If your kids can handle being out after dinner, it’s an easy choice for soft light with the perfect glow. At two hours before sunset, the light is just right to filter through trees and wrap everyone in soft, glowing light without being as hazy or warm as it is during Golden Hour. This is the time most of the photos you see in my portfolio are taken. I love the cleaner light, and the lower angle of the sun provides some great backlighting opportunities. In the summertime, the best time of day for evening photos outdoors is 7pm. In the spring and fall, evening photo sessions are held closer to 5pm.

fall family pictures at champoeg state park

Outdoor photos in the fall are a little later in the morning, and a little earlier in the evening. This is a 9:30am fall session.



What Next?

Now that you know which time of day will work best for photos of your family, head over to my Guide to Preparing for Your Family Photos. Then, visit my main website to start chatting about scheduling your Portland family photos.


Loved this Post? Save it for Later with the Image Below!

Infographic: What is the best time of day for your outdoor family photos? Spoiler alert: it might not be what you think.


PS: Ready for another round of sharing my favorite photography blog posts from around the world? Today I’m sharing my sweet friend Karla’s post about a Houston in home newborn session she did recently. It’s just beautiful! Head over and take a peek.

comments +

  1. Karla says:

    These are great tips and I love the soft colors of your edits. Beautiful work as always!

  2. Jasmyn says:

    Samantha I love this guide! This is such a helpful tip for families planning photos!

  3. Beth Miga says:

    So much helpful information to help
    choose the right time for a session! I love that you offer solutions for when golden hour is not the best fit!

  4. Isabel Sweet says:

    Thank you for the tips! It’s so important to educate clients on how important timing is. I love that you offer morning sessions to accommodate littles.

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