Lighting Conditions From Dawn to Dusk
Successful outdoor photography depends on an understanding of light, and how it changes through the day. This is especially important in landscape photography. The lighting conditions throughout the day from dawn to dusk change in three ways that are important for photography: direction; quality; and color.
The changing direction of the light is most noticeable in your images on bright and sunny days. Late in the day or early in the morning the sun is low in the sky and the lighting skims horizontally across the landscape. These conditions add dynamic highlights to the textures and forms in your photography. For example, the warmth and softness of afternoon sun will let your images capture stone buildings at their best.
The sun is higher in the sky towards the middle of the day. These conditions give a vertical and overhead effect. The light at this time of day can be quite harsh and uninteresting. The lighting at noon is one of the worst effects for landscape photography.
In photography, the quality of light refers to the effect of the “hardness” or “softness” on your image. This feature is most noticeable on overcast days. This lighting condition gives illumination from the whole sky and not from any one particular direction, producing a very soft result in your pictures. A single bright point source of light will create a very hard effect in your photographs.
The exact color of the lighting in your photograph can be measured as its “color temperature.” The units for this are “degrees Kelvin,” or “K.” Somewhat confusingly, lower temperatures mean warmer color tones (reds and yellows) and higher temperatures create cooler colors (blues). Throughout the day , the color temperature of lighting conditions outside changes constantly . A skilled photographer needs to pay attention to how the light is changing at any given time. Always be aware of the effect the color temperature and other conditions will have on the photographs you are taking.
Why Light Temperature Changes During the Day
The color of the lighting conditions changes throughout the day due to the position of the sun and the properties of the atmosphere. Air scatters blue light more strongly than red light. When the sun is lower in the sky at dawn and dusk the light passes through a thicker layer of atmosphere. This filters the blue light much more, giving redder conditions.
Before dawn and after sunset or in the shade, you get the scattered light indirectly from the air that creates the blue effect.
These changes in color will be much less noticeable and dramatic during overcast days. This is because the clouds essentially mix back the light filtering of the atmosphere, resulting in even neutral light throughout the day.
Here are some lighting color temperatures to give you an idea of how the color temperature scale works in photography
Before sunrise: 10,000 degrees K
Before sunrise the only illumination comes indirectly from a blue sky. This produces a characteristic strong steel blue color.
Dawn: 2,000-2,500 degrees K
The lighting will change to a very warm red color just as the sun comes up. Look for the first appearance of shadows.
Early morning: 3,000-4,000 degrees K
The color temperature will become more neutral as the sun continues to rise through the morning.
Midday: 5,500 degrees K
Overhead sun at noon produces neutral colors, though this may not be best pictorially.
Overcast: 7,500 degrees K
Overcast lighting conditions raise the color temperature noticeably. Your photographs will have much cooler colors.
Shade: 10,000 degrees K
The color temperature in shade on a sunny day is extremely high. All of the lighting will be coming from the blue sky.
Afternoon sun: 3,000-4,000 degrees K
The color temperature will fall as the sun goes down. The light effects become warmer and redder.
Sunset: 2,000-2,500 degrees K
Some of the reddest lighting conditions of the whole day will be at sunset.
Twilight: 10,000 degrees K
Just after sunset, the lighting will suddenly becoming very blue, for the same reasons as the shadows above.
General lighting tips
Outdoor portraits are best to take on overcast days because the diffuse lighting will create no harsh shadows. You can still take advantage of a directional quality to the light to bring out shape and form in your subject by photographing in partially shaded areas under trees, or near doorways or walls.