You will find the most beautiful, kindest, gentlest light for your outdoor photos during the Golden Hour or the Blue Hour.
Golden Hour is the 90 minutes just after sunrise and just before sunset. The light is soft and gives a lovely hue to your landscapes, and especially portraits of people taken outside.
Blue Hour, technically known as Civil Twilight, is the 45 minutes just before sunrise and just after sunset. This is just before the sun peeks over the horizon and just after the setting sun sinks below the horizon. It offers a very dim, sometimes spooky or eerie light to your landscapes. It is not suitable for people portraits unless you want the blue-ish background and have some fill light to use on your subject, or if you are doing some zombie photos! As shutter speeds will be slow due to low light conditions, you will probably want to use a tripod to steady your camera.
To plan ahead, especially if you’re traveling, you’ll want to determine the exact times of day to take advantage of these beautiful lighting conditions. The actual clock-time will vary slightly depending on your geographic location and latitude. It’s handy to check a website where you can see the Sunrise/Sunset and Civil Twilight (called Blue Hours by photographers) time of day for your location.
This Time and Date website will allow you to enter your location, and you can select the date you want to view. Sunrise, Sunset, and Civil Twilight times will show on the page.
Here are two examples of a landscape I took – both during spring, one early April and one late May – in two consecutive years at approximately the same location on the shore of Cascade Lake in Boise, Idaho. The April shot is evening Blue Hour, the May photo is evening Golden Hour. I did Very Little editing on the Blue Hour landscape, just lightened it a touch. Date, time, and exif data accompanies each photo.
Find a great spot near you and plan to spend the early morning or the late evening taking photos. Get pictures of the same subject or landscape at intervals, and see what you think of the differences. Stop right now and think of a spot where you’d like to try this!
April 8, 2014, 8:21 pm (Sunset 8:20 pm), f7.1, 1/30 sec. shutter speed, ISO 400
May 26, 2013, 8:02 pm (Sunset 9:14 pm), f8, 1/250 sec. shutter speed, ISO 200