What's The Best Time Of Day For Outdoors Family Photos?

March 01, 2021 Estimated reading time: 5 min

That's such a great question. We get sunlight for many hours in a day yet Professional photographers are obsessed with a specific window of time that takes place twice a day, it's called the Golden Hour! During that time the light is precious, soft, and flattering. Today, I'll share with you my passion for the GOLDEN HOUR, the BLUE HOUR, and what would be a good plan B if you can't make the prime time work. Let's get started!

Estimated Reading Time: 6 minutes

Hands down, THE best time of the day is --> the GOLDEN HOUR!

But what is the golden hour? my heart would answer that it is that MAGICAL time of the day that has superpowers to make people and places look beautiful.

The scientific explanation says that the golden hour is defined as "the period of daytime shortly after sunrise or before sunset, during which daylight is redder and softer than when the Sun is higher in the sky". So it's basically the ~60 min before sunset and the ~60 min after sunrise, regardless of the season.

For photographers like myself, who only use natural light, this is what we call prime time. It's our obsession. We live and breathe for THE golden hour.

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There is something poetic about the golden hour, there is so much hope that comes with a sunrise or sunset. It's the start of the day or the end of a journey. It's poetic by nature. It also accentuates the beauty of Mother Nature. It's an epic and inspiring hour of the day where the magic happens.

  • Sunset Session at an open field  ~ golden hour, no clouds. Some days there is not even a cloud in the sky during the golden hour. It makes it feel so whimsical and nostalgic.

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  • Sunset session at the beach ~ golden hour, with many clouds. Sometimes, we have THE most dramatic clouds in the sky. Dramatic skies add so much bold emotion during the golden hour.

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  • Sunset session at Joshua Tree, CA ~ golden hour with few clouds. Most of the time, we have a few clouds here and there. Clouds are definitely a GIFT! Clients want clear skies, we (photographers) crave clouds! They add texture and movement. 

Here are a couple of SUNRISE examples! The golden hour is SO yummy with that first light of the day. People usually don't think about sunrise as an option! Yet is THE most hidden secret. No crowds and spectacular light.

  • Golden Hour, Sunrise @ Cape Cod, MA. A storm was about to hit. The clouds gave it such a nostalgic look and feel.

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  • Golden Hour, Sunrise @ The Farm at SummitWynds, MA. The sun was coming and the sky exploded with color!

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  • Golden Hour, Sunrise @ the city. Boston, MA. There wasn't a single cloud in the sky, the light was prominent from the get go!

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What's The Biggest Surprise After The Golden Hour? ~ The BLUE Hour

The best part of booking a sunset session is that when you thought your heart had experienced it all and that the magic unfolded was unprecedented, then you get surprised by what happens next. Mother Nature brings on a delightful and unique light, it's called the Blue Hour.

Here is the formal definition "the blue hour is the period of twilight when the Sun is at a significant depth below the horizon and residual, indirect sunlight takes on a predominantly blue shade, which differs from the one visible during most of a clear day, which is caused by Rayleigh scattering".

In artistic terms, the Blue Hour gives a soft indirect light that is so flattering on people. We (professional photographers) love it! We are always surprised how the crowds leave the most epic locations after the sun is gone. For us, this gorgeous blue light is also prime time! These are delicious minutes that are the best-hidden secret. We embrace this light and magic happens. 

  • If we face the subjects to the light, our hearts explode. They will light up so beautifully. 

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  • We can also create the most breathtaking silhouettes using this gorgeous blue light!
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What's A Good Plan B?

Sometimes booking a sunrise or sunset session (to benefit from the Golden Hour) is not an option. That's OK. A professional family photographer will be able to use ANY light and create magic. The Golden and Blue Hour are the photographer's favorites, but just like a musician who has a favorite song, in a U2 concert, Bono will perform the entire album!

The same happens with professional family photographers, we thrive in prime light yet we're committed and passionate artists. In my case, I'm passionate about human connection and emotive storytelling above all. A great family photographer will surprise you with gorgeous family portraits regardless of the time of the day.

All the photos below were taken during mid-early afternoon on a bright sunny day.  Harsh light can be intimidating, how did ATP make it work?

Blocking the light

This is SO important. If your photo session will take place when the sun is too high in the sky, shooting in a location with tons of trees/buildings/elements to block the light is perfect! We diffuse the light as much as we want and we play with it. You'll be surprised at how the light changes when you block it, it gets softer and creamier. It's so lovely when diffused. 

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What if the location is an open field with NO trees?

It happens. Even if you have trees, the entire session can't take place in the same spot. In candid family photo sessions, we get to explore the location and that means that there will be times when the sun is still high and we have nothing to block it with. There are many tricks to make it work. Here are my favorite 2:

  • Shoot from above

By doing this the photographer will block the light herself. It creates magic light. The most tender and adorable portraits take place laying down in the ground, snuggling. 

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  • Look for the right angle

In an open field with nothing to block the light, the professional photographer has 360 degrees to explore and play with. We will move around the subject until the light is flattering and the shadows are in the right place. It's doable! You can have amazing moments captured with bright sun and no clouds in the sky. There is so much beauty in harsh light.

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So, what's THE BEST time for outdoor family photos?

Without a doubt, the Golden Hour takes 1st place. Depending on the season the time of the day changes. This is my favorite tool to calculate when the golden hour will be. Photographers start the sessions 60-90min before sunset and approx 20 min before sunrise. 

In Summer, this means, that a sunset family photo session will start around 6.30-7pm EST. 

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In Winter, a sunset session will be around 3-3.30pm EST.

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And how about the BEST SEASON for family pictures?

If you're intrigued about what's the BEST SEASON for family pictures, you can read all about it in this blog. Every season has its charm! Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter have their signature look and feel. It's about figuring out what's the best season for your family!

What is your heart dreaming about? maybe the fragrance in a lavender farm, or the waves on a poetic beach, or maybe the fall peak foliage or the most beautiful cherry blossom trees are your favorites! 

The options are endless year-round. Here you can look at photos per season in the Boston area to see what speaks to your soul. 

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I hope today's blog helps you understand everything about LIGHT and its impact on photos! At the end of the day, professional photographers will chase the available natural light and we will create magic.

If you have a white canvas and you can design THE perfect photo session for your family, I would recommend starting by choosing the best photographer for your family, then choosing your favorite season, then choosing the best time of the day (ideally the golden hour! it's SO worth it), and finally choosing gorgeous outfits that will enhance the portraits. Have fun and remember that Family Photography is all about embracing and celebrating your family's essence!





Andre Toro is an award-winning family photographer based in Lexington, MA. She calls her style Real Art Photography, which she defines as Fine Art inspired by candid moments. Andre is a passionate soul, obsessed with human connection, and emotive storytelling. She believes love is raw, messy, and beautiful. To inquiry about booking a photo session, please contact her at andre@andretorophotography.com 


Get to know me and my work!



About Andre Toro Photography

Andre Toro is an award-winning family and published photographer based in Boston, MA. She calls her style Real Art Photography, which she defines as Fine Art inspired by candid moments. Andre is a passionate soul, obsessed with human connection, and emotive storytelling. She believes love is raw, messy, and beautiful. To inquiry about booking a photo session, please contact her at andre@andretorophotography.com

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