How Does the Time of Day Impact Your Photos?

Posted On | January 31, 2024

As you choose your locations and start thinking about your timeline for the day, it’s important to consider how the lighting might impact your images. We put together a quick guide to different lighting scenarios that we might encounter throughout the day so you know what to expect! 

Golden Hour 

What is Golden Hour?

Golden hour, while not technically an hour, is the time just after sunrise or just before sunset when the sun is low in the sky. On most days during this time (with the exception of super cloudy days!) the lighting is absolutely perfect! It has a very soft, dream-like quality that creates gorgeous portraits. This glowy light limits harsh shadows and can help make skin look extra smooth and creates warm, vibrant colors in your images. If at all possible, we typically recommend shooting the bulk of your portraits during this timeframe. 

When is the best time for Golden Hour in the morning? 

Since sunrise changes daily, the best way to figure out what time to start is to look up sunrise in the time zone of that location for that day. We always like to make sure we’re at your portrait or ceremony site about 15-30 minutes before sunrise to make sure we can get into the perfect position to catch the alpenglow on east-facing mountains and the first glow of the sun. So, if you are planning a sunrise first look or sunrise ceremony, plan to spend some time directly after that focused on your couple’s portraits before we lose that golden light.

When is the best time for Golden Hour in the evening? 

Just like sunrise, sunset changes each day as well. We like to time your couple’s portraits to end just after the sun disappears over the horizon. After true sunset time, we may hang out for an additional 10-15 minutes to see if the clouds will light up hues of pastel pink and orange for a gorgeous photo op. Be aware that in the summer months in Colorado, sunset may not occur until 8:30 or 9:00 pm depending on the location! Because this timing is often a bit late to go to dinner, many of our couples opt for a picnic or brewery/restaurant earlier in the evening to celebrate before heading out for your couple’s portraits.

Are there exceptions? 

Yes! There are a few factors that can come into play when determining when the lighting will be best. The two biggest ones that we run into are locations in the mountains and foothills, and the weather. Mountains can block the sun significantly later in the morning and earlier in the evening than locations with unobstructed views. We always look up the official sunrise/sunset and compare it to when the sun will actually peek out over the mountains or dip behind them using a handful of different tools! 

The other factor that changes the golden hour is the weather. If there is a heavy layer of clouds in the sky, the sun will not shine through enough to get that golden light. Don’t fret! That even, gorgeous lighting is also some of our favorite because creates flattering light, we can photograph in pretty much any direction we want (instead of being directed by the direct sun), and colors turn out much more realistic and true on a camera.

Examples of Golden Hour

Alpenglow

What is Alpenglow? 

Alpenglow is an optical phenomenon that causes objects (both mountains and clouds!) on the horizon opposite the sunrise/sunset to glow a pinkish hue. It typically occurs just before sunrise or just after sunset and can create some seriously stunning images! 

Examples of Alpenglow

Blue Hour 

What is Blue Hour? 

The hour or so between when the sun sets and when it becomes too dark to see without a flashlight is called “blue hour” and is our second favorite time of day to capture dreamy portraits. During blue hour, we’ll break out some lanterns or hang out around a campfire. It’s a great time for the two of you to relax and snuggle while waiting for the stars to come out, as well as capture some unique images! 

Examples of Blue Hour

Night Photos 

Why take photos in the dark?  

A dark sky often means the opportunity for star photos! About an hour after the sun sets, the stars start to become visible to the human eye and we can start taking star photos. Depending on whether there is a full or new moon, we can capture anything from the landscape illuminated by moonlight to the Milky Way rising over the mountains! Even if the weather doesn’t cooperate and we can’t see the stars, we can still capture some incredible images. Night photos are an excellent and unique way to start or end the day! 

Examples of Night Photos

Mid-Day 

While we are always prepared to shoot in any lighting scenario (and often do when shooting all-day elopements!), we love to set our couples up for the best experience possible and be able to give you photos that are reflective of what you see on our website and in our galleries. Where the sun is in the sky can have a big impact on the final look of your images, so we will always encourage you to choose a time for your ceremony and portraits with the most flattering light. We have lots of tricks we can use to find gorgeous lighting throughout the day, but it’s important to know that photos taken during Golden Hour are typically going to have a different look and feel than photos taken mid-day! 

When the sun is high in the sky and directly overhead (typically during the middle of the day), it can create dark shadows on people’s faces, cause a lot of squinting, and is quite a bit harsher than the light we see when the sun is low in the sky.

If mid-day is the only time available, while not ideal, it’s not the end of the world! We’ll simply find a source of shade to shoot under to help soften the light (trees, bushes, or buildings can all work great!)

Examples of Mid-Day Lighting With Shade 

Examples of Mid-Day Lighting Without Shade 

Backlighting 

Most of the time we will aim to coordinate the time of day that we’re shooting with the direction that we’re facing so that the sun is behind you as much as possible (called backlighting). For East-facing locations, this means the best time of day for backlit images is usually in the morning. For West-facing locations, the best time of day is usually in the afternoon/evening. South-facing locations typically allow us to shoot backlit all day, while North-facing locations typically do not allow for backlit conditions. 

We love backlighting for two main reasons. First, it allows us to capture a similar glow with soft skin and minimal shadows as when we’re shooting during golden hour even if it’s a few hours outside of it. Second, when the sun is behind you, you don’t have to worry about squinting or not being able to see! 

Examples of Backlighting 

Direct Lighting 

The opposite of backlighting is direct lighting. As you probably guessed, direct lighting is when the sun is positioned in front of you. West-facing locations will have direct light in the morning, East-facing locations will have direct light in the afternoon/evening, North-facing locations will have direct light most of the day, and South-facing locations will have minimal direct light. 

While the majority of the photos you’ll see on our website are backlit, direct lighting can still result in some stunning images, especially if we’re able to pick a spot with even lighting. 

Direct light can be great for making details pop or adding drama to an image, and look especially great on film! 

The only downside to direct light is that because you will be facing the sun, you might have a hard time keeping your eyes open and not squinting. If the light is coming at an angle from the left or the right, it might also create additional (not-so-flattering) shadows. 

Examples of Direct Lighting With Even Light 

Examples of Direct Lighting With Uneven Light 

As you consider which locations fit your vision and whether a morning-centric or evening-centric timeline feels best, hopefully this provides some insight into what types of images you can expect throughout the day! As always, we’re here to provide guidance and answer any questions that might come up! 

Looking for help Planning Your Colorado Elopement?

We’re here to help! The last step is to actually make it happen! We are here to help. As two born and raised Coloradans who have photographed 250+ couples in over 100 locations across Colorado we are ready to make your dream elopement day happen. We’re not just photographers; we’re your pack mules, best friends, planners, and guides to help you have the best day of your lives. If you love new experiences and want to kick wedding tradition to the curb, then reach out to us and we’ll help you start planning a wedding day as adventurous as you are. Now, let’s do the dang thing!

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