Light and Time of Day
Light and time of day can, of course, make a huge difference to your photo, even of the same subject. The colour of light changes throughout the day. In brief, the light colour is measured in Kelvin and can range from 2000k at sunrise/sunset right up to 6500k at midday. You will have noticed this yourself, bright harsh light at midday and that late afternoon/evening golden light.
As can be seen in the photo above, the light at sunrise can be a very cold blue light. In this photo, I have tried to show the contrast of the cold blue light and the warmth of the rising sun which is still below the horizon.
Some subjects lend themselves to golden afternoon light, some soft morning tones and others bright sunshine. It’s personal preference. For the most part, you decide how you want your photograph to look.
Shooting in the morning when the sun is not directly overhead will lead to the picture looking more evenly lit. This is because the non-direct light is more diffused. This can lead to colours being more rich and vibrant.
At midday, when there is more light entering the camera, it means you will get faster shutter speeds. You will also find higher contrast and harsher shadows. Depending on the photograph you want to take means that this may not be a bad thing.
With a higher contrast and shadows, some portrait photography will work better in the middle of the day. For example, architecture worked for me at midday taking a picture of the arch. As can be seen above, the harsh bright light can bring out contrast more.
If you are planning action shots then the middle of the day will allow higher shutter speeds and freeze the action for you. As can be seen, it was a fast shutter speed in the photo below.
If you are looking for a softer more diffused light for outdoor portraits then morning light is your friend. Afternoon light can be considered but the golden tone may not give the result you are after.
Light and time of day – Afternoon Light
In late afternoon/evening light, the colour and, therefore, the warmth of the light will be really noticeable. Also, direct light from the side will mean longer shadows in your photos.
Consequently, bracketing is extremely useful for those shots in tricky lighting. As can be seen below, the photos are taken in the afternoon light and have been bracketed.
As can be seen in the three photos above, bracketing has made a difference to what the camera captures. On the left, its a bit dark, on the right it is a bit washed out but the best compromise is the middle one.
This is a worst case scenario! The sun was setting behind me, as can be seen with the golden light on the tower. What that means in real terms is that the ground will be darker than usual, shadows deeper and details muted. So I have taken the middle photo added a bit of jiggery-pokery in Lightroom and we are left with this below;
Because I had an acceptable and correctly exposed photo it was about 2 minutes work just to increase the contrast in the photo, adjust some of the levels and add a graduated filter to slightly brighten the grass and add a touch of colour back to it.
Most importantly its kept the lovely golden afternoon light in the photo. The afternoon light is lovely but it can be tricky to capture it!
Light and time of day comparison
As can be seen above, light and time of day can change the shot dramatically. It is the same coconut husk adding foreground interest (see my Composition guide for more tips) but I have changed the angle of the photo. The photo on the left emphasises the whiteness of the foam on the tropical beach and the bright light from directly above makes the contrast between the sand and the waves all the starker.
The same location but at sunset reveals a different texture to the sand as the light is coming from the side, thus emphasizing the texture. The light has an altogether softer feel and the red wavelengths are more prominent during the sunset.
Light and time of day – Conclusions
Ultimately, it’s your choice, whatever works for your photos. But knowing what light you will get at different times of the day can help you make certain choices when it comes to taking your photos.
Below is a selection of the actual gear I use. For the full list of equipment I use to take all these photos check out My Travel Camera Bag
In Summary – Light and Time of Day
- Morning – Soft Diffused Light
- Midday – Bright High Contrast Light
- Evening – Golden Light with Long Shadows
- Return to the same place at different times of the day to get the best photo
For the full science bit on colour of light see here
For all my tips and tricks see my Photography Tutorials page.
To see all my gear, check out What’s In My Camera Bag.
More Photography Tips
Composition – Learn the rules of composition, then break them.
Shutter Speed – Slow Shutter Speed Tips and how to avoid Camera Shake.
Use a Polarising Filter – Take away reflections and boost colours.
Fooling your camera’s internal light meter is easy! – Bracket your shots.
Light changes dramatically with the time of day! Know what’s best for your shot.
Know Your Camera – Know where all the buttons are for when the perfect shot comes.
The Depth of Field – What’s in focus in your picture and what’s not.
Backup and Memory Cards – and spread your trip out over them.
Plan your Photographs – Spend time on Google street view getting to know the area.
Take your time – For less time editing – Walk around the subject and try from different angles.
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