The Best Time Of Day To Have Your Outdoor Portrait Taken

The Big Question for Your Outdoor Portrait:

Everyone wants their portrait to be beautiful. Most people understand that good lighting makes a world of difference to an image: particularly when looking at an outdoor portrait. Often I am asked: “When is the best time to have my portrait taken?”. Beautiful light depends on many factors: Primarily, it is your definition of beautiful light. Does beautiful light mean strong contrast, or beautifully soft? Therefore, answering this question is not a simple answer, and knowing what my client wants is important when I give this advice.

Middle of the Day:

Many people assume that good light means bright light, and lots of light. On a bright, blue-skied, sunny day I often get comments like: “Look at how great the day is – we’re so lucky”. There are things to consider when shooting in the midday sun. On hot days, subjects can begin to feel exhausted and overwhelmed. They can then begin to look tired and worn too, and sometimes visibly sweaty – so it isn’t always pleasant. Be mindful that shoots in the middle of the day can have you squinting and with watering eyes if you’re not positioned in the right way. Although, with the right photographer a good portrait is achieved despite these conditions. Light can be modified and shade can be created to soften the shadows.

These two outdoor headshots below were created at the middle of the day at around 1-2pm, on hot sunny days in Australian summer. Knowing how to control light when it would otherwise cause hot spots, dark shadowing, and glare, is a really important part of being a portrait photographer . Often, this is the difference between a professional, and a friend with a great camera (or phone!).

Melbourne Actors Headshots - Acting headshot photography - Professional actor headshots - actor headshots melbourne - corporate photography melbourne - linkedin headshot
Ben’s session was scheduled for 1pm. We wanted to create some images that were a bit more moody, and found a spot with a darker background. Some light modifiers helped us reduce the contrast from the high sun above.


Corporate Headshot Photography Melbourne - Melbourne Corporate Headshots - Professional Linkedin Headshots - Personal Branding Photography
Lisa needed headshots for her speech pathology business. She wanted images that were lighter and more relaxed. Being a 1pm shoot meant the sun was quite high and hot, so to reduce major contrast we used light modifiers to control the intensity.


Angled Light in the Morning and Afternoon:

The morning and afternoon give beautiful angled light, casting lovely shadows and creating beautiful highlights. These times of day are utilised to create highlights and backlighting on a subject.

It also vastly changes the way a backdrop looks. I find it particularly important to consider the light on a background when I know my subject needs their environment as a focus. Many headshots have beautifully bokeh in the background – so details like the light hitting a tree are not as important.

So angled light can be used to two main advantages which I will discuss:

  • for the background
  • and for the subject.

For the Background:

Headshot Photographer Melbourne
When I have someone wanting to be within a featured environment, the light is a big key. Sometimes it is pot luck! Getting up early for beautiful light can leave you finding it overcast and flat. These conditions will provide beautiful soft light, but your ‘sun coming through the trees’ effect is lost.

There have been many mornings I have rushed out, unplanned, with my camera to capture the beauty of fog and sunlight creating stunning scenery – you just can’t plan that!

Knowing where the sun rises, and where the sun sets will allow you to consider your backgrounds. Applications, such as The Photographer’s Ephemeris help with planning and understanding the sun’s movements at different times of the year.

This outdoor portrait of Tracy was featuring the lovely environment of the Yarra Ranges. We decided on a morning shoot around my studio to have the light coming in through the trees.

Below is also around my studio. An incredibly lucky winter’s morning had me rushing out with my camera to capture the sun beaming through the fog!

Outdoor Portrait - Julia Nance
Imaging capturing your portrait on this morning – this is the surrounds of my studio on a beautiful winter morning.

For the Subject:

When angled light hits a portrait subject, it really changes the way the image looks. The above headshots taken at midday would look completely different if there was sun flaring in from the background. It can be used to an advantage to create interesting portraits that have characteristic light.

When positioned correctly, light can either directly hit or be reflected for either dramatic or subtle highlights (such as a golden glow on their hair, a dreamy backlight, or some highlights on one side of the face).

The photographer needs to know what the intention of the portrait is for you, and you need to understand the look you want in your portrait to know if this lighting is suitable. Having half your face in dramatic shadow for a cool lighting effect would not be suitable for an actors headshot. It might work for a creative outdoor portrait though. When you require an outdoor portrait or headshot to match your colleagues, you must make sure the look and lighting is consistent with theirs.

Below is an example of angled light hitting the subject to create highlights and give dimension to the image.

 So When is The Best Time?

There are so many factors into answering this question. The best time of day is dependent on your location and desires of your shoot. If you have particular lighting in mind, I suggest you discuss it with your photographer before booking in a time. They will be able to give you advice to achieve what you are after.

If you don’t have a particular look in mind, then think about what best works in with your schedule and personality.

I personally love shooting in the morning –  I feel fresh, excited, and ready to go. It gives opportunities for incredible light, and in the summer it means temperatures are milder. I am a morning person, but if you’re not, then the shoot will become a burden if you book an early session.

Shooting later in the day gives you more opportunity to prepare for the shoot – especially if you are thinking of getting hair and makeup done, and will allow for travel time if you are further away too.

If you are indecisive then start looking at some images you like and pinpoint what you like about it. Try and relate this to time of day, and discuss with your photographer to see if they have any recommendations.

If you find a photographer who you get along with, feel at ease when in your session, and love their work, then you will receive a great portrait no matter what.

You can view my outdoor portrait work here and book your session online.