Read Caption
Two hikers lit by the last rays of the setting sun on Kentucky's Pine Mountain Trail. (Photograph by Dan Westergren)
TravelTraveler Magazine

How to Make Light Work for You

Reader Question: What’s the best time of day to take pictures?

My Answer: Most photographers love early morning and late afternoon. There are many good reasons for this.

Typically, the light is coming from a lower angle. That makes the scene have more depth and 3-dimensionality. At these times the scene also has lower contrast between bright areas and dark areas.

Our cameras can’t see as much as we can with our eyes, and having the scene more tonally compressed makes for a better picture. Another reason is for more interesting color. Photographers refer to the time from approximately a 1/2 hour before sunrise to a 1/2 hour after (and correspondingly at sunset) as the golden hour.

The sun shining through the atmosphere has that typical golden glow. But, it is important to note that we don’t like that light because we want to take sunset pictures; those are a dime a dozen. We’re more likely to turn our back to the sun and photograph the objects or people that the golden light is falling on.

In these situations it’s important to have your white balance setting set on Daylight instead of Auto to make sure your camera doesn’t “correct” the warm colors you worked so hard to find.

Final word: Next time you find yourself on a beach at sunset, turn your back to the sun. You might be amazed at what you see.

Dan Westergren is director of photography for National Geographic Traveler magazine. Follow him on Twitter @dwestergren and on Instagram @danwestergren.

Do you have something you want to ask Dan about travel photography? He’ll be answering reader questions periodically on the blog, so be sure to leave a comment.