Best Times to Shoot Landscapes

Best Time To Shoot Landscapes

Written By: John
Updated:

Landscape photography has always held a special place in the hearts of photographers, whether they be amateurs, hobbyists, or professionals. We love immersing ourselves in nature and capturing the majestic beauty of our surroundings. However, time plays a critical role in our ability to capture stunning and captivating images that invoke powerful emotions and inspire awe. Knowing when to shoot, and the factors that influence the time you choose, can make all the difference.

In this article, I’ll share what I’ve learned throughout my photography journey, discussing the best time to shoot landscapes from various perspectives across the globe. We will delve into six primary topics:

  • Golden Hour: The most popular time of day for landscape photography, when the light is warm and diffused.
  • Blue Hour: A serene period when the sky turns shades of blue, resulting in moody images with a cooler hue.
  • Seasonal Considerations: Learn how specific seasons shape and impact the atmosphere and color palette for landscape photography.
  • Understanding Light: Familiarize yourself with different light situations and how to master the perfect exposure settings.
  • Weather Factors: Dive into the effects of various weather phenomena on landscape photography and how to exploit them to your advantage.
  • Location Scouting: Discover the importance of thorough research and find out when and where to capture amazing landscape photos.

So, whether you’re an amateur photographer looking for guidance, or an experienced professional seeking to hone your skills, let’s explore these topics together and unlock the secrets of capturing landscapes at the perfect time.

Golden Hour

The magical golden hour has earned much praise and love from landscape photographers around the world—and for good reason. It’s during this brief window of time that the sun casts that beautifully warm, soft light over everything, transforming ordinary scenes into visually stunning spectacles. Shadows become elongated, colors are enriched, and even the most familiar landscapes are given new life. Famous photographers such as Ansel Adams and Joe Cornish often utilized golden hour in their work, showcasing its immense potential in landscape photography.

Best Times to Shoot Landscapes: Golden Hour

The Golden Qualities

Golden hour occurs twice a day, approximately within the first hour after sunrise and the last hour before sunset. The specific timing can vary depending on your geographic location and the time of year. The striking quality of golden hour stems from the low angle of the sun, which produces longer shadows and imbues the scene with warmer, softer light. This diffused light can complement and enhance the colors in your landscape, adding depth and drama to your photographs.

Plan Ahead

Maximizing your golden hour opportunities means planning ahead. Familiarize yourself with the sunrise and sunset times in your area and arrive at your location at least 30 minutes prior. Ensure that you’ve set up your gear and are ready to shoot as soon as the golden light begins to spread across the landscape. One helpful tip for determining the specific timing of the golden hour is to take advantage of various apps or tools, such as the Photographer’s Ephemeris, which can provide you with real-time directional information on the sun’s position and light conditions based on your geographic location.

Tips and Techniques

Here are some useful tips and techniques to make the most of the golden hour:

  • Compose your shot: Seek compelling foreground elements, like interesting trees or rock formations, to anchor your composition and interact with the long shadows cast during this period.

  • Use natural light: Allow the warm, glowing light to backlight your subjects, creating a vibrant and ethereal atmosphere in your photographs.

  • Reflections: Capitalize on the warm hues reflecting off bodies of water or other reflective surfaces to add dimension and interest to your shots.

  • Sky Drama: Golden hour skies can often be dramatic and stunning, so don’t be afraid to include plenty of sky in your composition to capture those dazzling cloud formations and colors.

By understanding and exploiting the golden hour, you’ll be well on your way to capturing breathtaking landscape photographs that celebrate the natural beauty of light and time. Time is of the essence, so be prepared, be patient, and watch as your photography skills ascend to new heights during these golden moments.

Blue Hour

The Blue Hour, a term that conjures up images of tranquility and serenity, has always captivated my interest as a landscape photographer. It’s a fleeting period of time when the sky transforms into a beautiful, deep blue canvas; the chiaroscuro of shadows and lights interweaving to create a unique visual drama that can be both mysterious and mesmerizing.

Best Times to Shoot Landscapes: Blue Hour

When Magic Happens

As opposed to the golden hour, the blue hour occurs twice daily—once in the early morning just before sunrise, and again in the evening after the sun has set. During these windows, the cooler hues of twilight can lend a dreamy atmosphere to your landscapes, imbuing them with a quiet beauty that’s ideal for cityscapes, water scenes, and monuments bathed in artificial lighting.

It’s important to remember that the duration and intensity of the blue hour can vary depending on your geographical location and the time of year. In general, it lasts for about 20 to 40 minutes, which means you’ll have to work quickly and efficiently to capture the perfect frame.

Camera Settings and Composition

During the blue hour, you might need to tweak your camera settings to account for the low light conditions. Here are some general suggestions:

  1. Shutter Speed: Slow shutter speeds allow your camera’s sensor to capture more light, helping to render details and tonal variations effectively. Depending on your subject matter and available lighting, you may need to experiment with shutter speeds ranging anywhere between 1-30 seconds.

  2. Aperture: Using a larger aperture (like f/4 or f/5.6) enables the camera to gather more light, but you might face challenges with depth of field. Don’t be afraid to use smaller apertures like f/8 or f/11 to achieve a sharper image, provided you have a sturdy tripod to compensate for the slower shutter speeds.

  3. ISO: Keep your ISO as low as possible (e.g., around 100-200) to minimize digital noise, which becomes more prominent in low-light settings.

Another crucial aspect of blue hour landscape photography is finding the ideal composition. To create engaging images that highlight the rich blue tones, try to incorporate contrasting elements in the frame, such as the warmth of city lights or the illuminated windows that make buildings come alive.

Be Prepared and Timing is Crucial

Similar to golden hour shoots, making the most of the blue hour requires careful planning and preparation. Using apps and tools to predict the precise timings of blue hour based on your location can help you get to your desired spot before the transition begins, ensuring that you won’t miss a moment of this magical time.

When you’re out in the field, remember that the blue hour won’t last forever. It is crucial to track the changing light conditions and adjust your camera settings and composition accordingly, so you can create captivating images that do justice to those ephemeral moments when nature weaves a spell of enchantment around your landscape. So, the next time the sun dips below the horizon, grab your camera, head out, and let the soothing embrace of the blue hour work its magic on your creative vision.

Seasonal Considerations

Just as the sun’s position in the sky influences the quality of light and atmosphere, so does the season. Each season offers its distinct palette of colors, mood, and energy, which can significantly impact your landscape photography. To make the most of these natural fluctuations, it’s essential to understand what each season brings to the table and plan your shoots according to the landscape photography destinations you choose.

Spring

Spring is a season of rebirth, ushering in fresh green foliage, vibrant wildflowers, and breathtaking blossoms. As the landscape comes to life after a long, cold winter, the abundant colors and textures offer abundant opportunities for stunning photographs. Consider exploring botanical gardens, forest trails, or pastoral meadows to capture nature in full bloom.

Best Times to Shoot Landscapes: Spring

Practical tip: Pack your macro lens or a close-up filter, as you might come across the perfect blossom or dew-kissed foliage waiting to be immortalized in a detailed shot. Dress in layers and always keep your rain gear handy, as spring weather can be unpredictable.

Summer

Summer landscapes are synonymous with warm, sunny days, blue skies, and lush greenery. The long days provide more time for photographers to explore and shoot during golden hour. However, summer also brings harsh midday light, which can flatten a landscape and create a lack of contrast.

Best Times to Shoot Landscapes: Summer

Practical tip: To avoid the harsh light, schedule your shoots around the golden hour or blue hour. Summer is also the perfect time for panoramic images capturing subjects such as vast fields or dramatic coastline vistas. Remember to protect your gear from the heat and pack ample water and sunscreen.

Autumn

Autumn is a season of vibrant colors and changing landscapes. Leaves drenched in warm hues of red, orange, and yellow transform into a visual feast. This season offers excellent opportunities for photographers to capture the essence of change and the fleeting nature of time.

Best Times to Shoot Landscapes: Autumn

Practical tip: To emphasize the colors and textures, get up close with nature and shoot details of leaves, branches, or fallen trunks. Don’t forget a polarizing filter, which can help deepen your blue skies and saturate the colors even further. Dress in layers and keep an eye on the weather, as sudden showers and gusts of wind can make for challenging conditions.

Winter

Winter may seem like a bleak and barren season, but this is when the magic truly happens. A blanket of fresh snow can transform landscapes into breathtaking scenes of serenity and purity, while ice and frost create intricate, delicate patterns. Bundle up and brave the elements for a chance to capture the beauty of this often-underappreciated season.

Best Times to Shoot Landscapes: Winter

Practical tip: Protect your gear from the cold and wet conditions by using weather-seals or specialized covers. Keep spare batteries warm in an inner pocket, as they can deplete quickly in the cold. Don’t forget to dress warmly and invest in a pair of high-quality gloves that allow for camera operation without exposing your fingers to the frosty air.

Mastering the art of landscape photography requires adaptability and a sense of adventure. Embrace each season and its unique offerings to hone your skills, expand your creative vision, and evoke a deeper connection with the natural world.

Weather Factors

The unpredictability of weather can sometimes turn it into your best companion in creating awe-inspiring landscape photographs. Various weather conditions, such as fog, rain, storm, and snow, have the potential to add drama, transform mood, and create visual interest in your shots. In this section, we’ll explore different weather types and provide specific tips and techniques to help you take advantage of each condition.

Fog

Fog imbues your photographs with a sense of mystery and depth. When shooting in foggy conditions, embrace the element of surprise and focus on simplicity. Use the fog as a natural diffuser to capture softer, more diffused light. Try finding isolated subjects, such as trees or structures, that stand out against the foggy backdrop. Remember to adjust your camera settings, as the fog tends to trick the camera’s metering system. You may need to overexpose slightly to capture the true atmosphere of the scene.

Rain

Many photographers shy away from shooting in rain, but it can actually provide unique opportunities for capturing vibrant, reflective images. Emphasize the rain’s impact on your surroundings – from droplets on leaves to puddles on the ground. Use a polarizing filter to enhance the colors and minimize glare from wet surfaces. And of course, don’t forget to protect your gear with waterproof covers or bags.

Best Times to Shoot Landscapes: Storm

Storm

There’s something wild and powerful about stormy skies, and they can create a truly dramatic backdrop for your landscape photos. When capturing stormy scenes, play with contrasting elements, such as dark clouds against a brightly lit foreground. Utilize a sturdy tripod and remote shutter release to minimize camera shake during longer exposures. Be prepared to adjust your camera settings as the light changes quickly during storms, and always prioritize safety – don’t put yourself in harm’s way for a photograph.

Snow

Snow can transform a landscape into a magical, pristine wonderland. The stark contrast between the white snow and other elements creates an opportunity for minimalist and striking compositions. Emphasize textures or patterns, such as footprints or snow-covered branches. Adjust your exposure settings, as your camera’s metering system may underexpose your shots due to the snow’s reflectivity. A polarizing filter can help manage the glare from snow and improve the overall image quality. Lastly, dress warmly and protect your gear from the cold and wet conditions.

As you experiment with different weather conditions, you’ll broaden your landscape photography repertoire and learn how to create stunning images even when the skies aren’t clear and sunny. So bundle up, grab your umbrella, and embrace the challenge of capturing Mother Nature’s ever-changing moods.

Location Scouting

Knowing your location inside out is a key factor in capturing the most striking landscape photographs at the perfect time. Scouting potential locations, conducting thorough research, and planning beforehand can help ensure that you are well prepared to capture your desired shots. In this section, let me share some effective methods and tools to scout locations and nail those awe-inspiring landscape photographs.

Photography Apps and Maps

Technology offers a plethora of tools to make our scouting process more accurate and efficient. There are several specialized photography apps that can help you identify potential locations and predict the best times for shooting. Apps like The Photographer’s Ephemeris, PhotoPills, and Sun Surveyor can provide you with crucial information such as the position of the sun, moon, and stars, sunrise and sunset times, and even weather forecasts.

Additionally, using digital maps like Google Maps and its Street View feature can help you familiarize yourself with the area and identify possible vantage points, landmarks, and compositions without ever leaving your home.

Local Photography Forums and Online Communities

Connecting with local photographers or joining photography forums can immensely help your scouting process. Fellow photographers who are familiar with the area can provide you with inside information about the best shooting locations, light conditions, and seasonal events. Websites such as 500px or Flickr can be useful resources to search for images of your desired location, often with metadata like the time, camera settings, and even the photographers’ viewpoints.

Physical Reconnaissance

While technology and online resources can provide valuable information, there’s no substitute for visiting the location in person. Spending time at the location to observe and analyze the surroundings is essential. Pay attention to the changing light conditions throughout the day, watch for interesting meteorological phenomena, and identify natural elements that could enhance your composition.

During your onsite visit, take several test shots at different times of the day and during varying light conditions. This will help you visualize the potential of the location and also give you a better understanding of how the changing environment impacts your images.

Anticipating and Adapting

Even with the best planning, you might be faced with unforeseen challenges such as sudden adverse weather conditions, access restrictions, or disrupted compositions due to natural or human-made changes on the location. Always have a ‘Plan B’ in your pocket—an alternate shooting spot, or some improvisation ideas in terms of composition or camera settings, will help you adapt to the situation and still make the most of your photography session.

So, what’s the best time to shoot landscapes?

Throughout this article, we’ve explored the various factors that contribute to the perfect landscape photograph. Hours such as the heavenly golden hour or the serene blue hour, along with considering seasonal changes, understanding light, weather-related intricacies, and the art of location scouting, all play a significant role in capturing breathtaking landscapes.

Remember, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to choosing the best time to take landscape photographs. Each photographer’s unique approach should compel them to experiment with different times of the day, explore various weather conditions, and embrace the beauty of multiple seasons. By doing so, you’ll not only refine your skills but also discover your distinctive style of landscape photography.

Landscape photography is a remarkable journey filled with ever-changing experiences and numerous personal discoveries. By continually honing your craft, you’ll find that the world around you holds countless opportunities for creating stunning images. In the sage words of Ansel Adams, “You don’t take a photograph, you make it.”

With that in mind, go forth and capture the enchanting beauty of our world, one landscape at a time.

The Creativv
American digital marketer and founder of TheCreativv.com with over a decade of experience in event, travel, portrait, product, and cityscape photography.