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Why Do Photographers Only Want to Shoot In the Evening?

Updated: Jun 17, 2019

*Magic Hour* and why it's worth it

If you are a parent of small children or have a busy working schedule, that evening hour may be one of the most inconvenient parts of making photos happen. Bedtime for littles comes early, someone is probably just getting off work, extracurriculars are right at that time, and everyone is going to be starving, not to mention mosquitos love the evening hours so WHY is my photographer really pushing for the times between 5:00-7:00?!

If they’re a professional, can’t they make noon work?

Yes! And also no. There’s a reason why the time just before sunset is called “Magic Hour”


Why is it Called Magic Hour?

The time just before sunset (summer around 6:30-8:00, fall/spring around 5:30-7:00) is often called "magic hour" because the way the light interacts with you, your background, and the camera creates real life magic.

Magic Hour Makes You Look Your Best: Without getting overly geeky, the hour or two just before sunset is when the sun is at it’s lowest point in the sky. This is hugely to your benefit because it creates flattering shadows on your face (no raccoon eyes with dark shadows, no heavy shadows under your face adding fake double chins, no squinty eyes from the bright sun). The lighting is even because it’s close to eye level. Your skin tone is even and soft.

Had I turned her around in this photo, you would have seen the same harsh shadows and bright spots on her face that you see on the ground.

Literally an hour difference between these two photos. Her skin tone is now soft and even. There are no more severe shadows and highlights. While this isn't the style of portrait I would create for most families (it's pretty dark) it makes the point well.

Magic Hour Makes My Job a Breeze: You see the images below with the floating circles? It’s called bokeh and is a result of the sun being low enough on the horizon to be roughly at my eye line. It’s the light shining through the trees/leaves or reflecting and it is my favorite. There are always different styles of shooting, but that look is one that really defines the art I create. That particular bokeh can only be achieved during the later hours of the day. RIGHT before sunset.

Magic Hour Allows for More Creative Photos: When I have a great magic hour to work with, I have more opportunities to play with the light. Sunflares, silhouettes, etc. are hard to achieve at midday. Another term that’s used for this time of day is “golden hour” because the light has that warm tone, even to the naked eye that makes everything turn rosy. The whole world is prettier in the evening.

Literally just a soybean field. But at golden hour, it becomes another world

Magic Hour Gives Us More Freedom: If I have a shoot at midday, I will need to spend more time during the session finding light that won’t create weird shadows on your face. We’ll be forced to stay within that section of light instead of having the freedom to roam around like we would at golden hour. Getting more freedom means less stress trying to keep everyone in one spot. (e.g. kids can run literally wild and we’ll probably still get a fun, usable shot)

Even though they were hightailing it out of the area we were taking photos in, this photo was still worth keeping because the light was soft at golden hour

Okay, So What? Can’t You Still Take a Great Photo at Noon?

YES! Totally. But it’s likely that the photos you see online and in print of gorgeous families/couples (the photos you're hoping to get of your own family) were taken at this magic hour. If you want to shoot at 4:00, don’t expect the rosy golden hues of a sunset photo. It’s just not going to happen. We’ll get other great photos, but it won’t be the same.

Because they were only in town for a short while, this whole session was at high-noon, but we spent most of the time trying to stay contained in a 5 foot area of shadow and were super limited with our background

Also taken at noon. The "hot spots" (areas where the light is extra bright in the background, hair, and bouquet) are less than ideal. The moment is sweet, but the high light creates a more harsh image than I prefer. High light also adds a weird glow and saturation to the skin that Photoshop can't really fix.

Are There Ever Any Exceptions?

Yeah! Basically anytime of day is great in mid-winter! The sun is always low on the horizon and the snow helps reflect light up onto your face to eliminate any other ugly shadows

Sunrise is also an option… but does anyone want to wake up at 4:00 for their 5:30 session? I think not.

If you're willing to brave the cold, the always-glowing light is worth it in winter!


Cool… Evening Sessions Are Still Inconvenient Though Because…

I have a baby that goes to bed at X- No problem. Feel free to text me your baby’s bedtime and roughly what time you think you’ll start losing them (e.g. when they will start fussing). We want to avoid that at all costs! From there we can schedule an hour and a half or so before that fussing time. Putting them down for a later nap may also help.

My spouse doesn’t get off until X at work- We have a couple options! 1. Schedule on a non-workday so everyone can make it on time. 2. Be the boss parent that you are and get the kids ready for the shoot on your own. You’ve got this! Your spouse can meet us once they’re off work. Make sure you keep the outfits simple. :)

My kids hate the mosquitos in the evening- Um SAME! This is actually such a huge part of creating a happy shoot that I have a running list of locations that are low-bugs and regularly check up on them.

It may take some problem solving and creative thinking, but if you want those golden-hued, soft, dreamlike photos you really want a late evening session

Click HERE for more photo session resources!


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