What is the best time to schedule a portrait session?

post filed in:


In one of my recent mentoring sessions, one of my students said something that caught my attention. She said that she allows her clients to book their session for any time of the day, rather than the times when light is ideal. In her eyes by doing so, she was being “ flexible” and providing a great service. I explained to her that my opinion is a little bit different. 

The average client does not know much about photography. What they do know is that they want amazing photos, and that is why they are hiring us. As photographers we know that good light can affect photos tremendously. And while there are lots of tricks to get consistent photos even in times of day when the light is less than ideal – there are also lots of limitations when doing so.

I believe that In order to serve our clients in the best way possible we have to educate them about the meaning of great light and recommend the ideal time for taking photos. 

There is nothing like golden hour. The glowy dreamy images that can be taken with that soft golden hour light cannot be duplicated at 12:00 pm when the sun is as harsh as it can be. 

I always want what is best for my client. And sometimes that means not being “flexible” with them in order for them to have great photos. 

So when is the best time of day to take photos? When is that “golden hour”?

Golden hour is the period of time shortly after sunrise or before sunset. 

So when should you schedule your session in order to shoot in golden hour?

Well it depends… 

1.How long are your sessions? 

My family sessions are 60 minutes long, so I always schedule them to begin 90 minutes before sunset. That way I allow a buffer time in case my clients are late, or the session is taking longer than expected. When you are working with families and young children, you always have to make sure you have buffer time because kids can be pretty unpredictable. 

My engagement sessions are two hours long, since my couples tend to bring more than one outfit. In that case I schedule the session for exactly two hours before sunset and that gives us plenty of  shooting time & a break for changing outfits. 

If your sessions are 60-90 minute long – schedule the session for 90 minutes before sunset. 

If your sessions are two hours long – schedule it for two hours before sunset (there is no need to add buffer time because two hours typically already include buffer time!) 

2. Where is the session taking place? 

Technically sunset occurs when the sun falls behind the horizon line. While it is pretty easy to check sunset times online using a sunset calculator, different locations can affect the time the sun actually hides and you start tuning out of light. In locations that have tall trees/tall buildings/tall hills, it might get darker earlier than the official sunset time. Any time the sun gets blocked by any environmental object it affects the amount of light available to us! If you are planning on shooting your session in a place with tall buildings/trees you have to take it into consideration and schedule your session for an earlier time! 

Pro tip: Try to only schedule your sessions in locations you have worked at toured before – by doing so you will not have any surprises on the session day when it comes to horizon lines & sun blockage. 

So what do you do when you do not have a choice?

What do you do when you are working with a family with very young children and there is just no way they will stay up until 7:00pm when the light is ideal? 

Since I work with families a lot I come across that problem quite a bit! 

While light is a major priority, I would prefer to avoid photographing cranky kids & and stressed out parents. I don’t just want my clients to have great light in their photos, but I also want them to have an enjoyable experience!

In that scenario I would intentionally choose a spot with tall trees/ tall buildings & lots of shade  knowing that my golden hour window will happen earlier than it would in an open field. I will also be able to use the trees in order to diffuse the harsher light earlier in the session, or find open shade that would provide me with soft even light.

July 25, 2019

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Free educational content delivered to your inbox weekly 

Get the Insider's Tips

join my community &