The “When” of Photography: Knowing Which Photos to Take During What Hour of the Day

Posted September 16, 2013 by Paul Xymon García in Photography

Photography is not just about choosing what to take photos of or figuring out how to take them. It also has to do with when to take the photos. I like to think of this as the “when” of photography. It is particularly useful to think about in travel photography. When you are immersed in different locations during travel, you will discover that each location has its “finest hour,” that is, the time of day it is most photogenic.

I have noted specific types of places that lend itself well to a particular time of day. Let’s begin.

1. Sunrise: Mountains

Mount Pulag, Philippines

Mount Pulag, Philippines

There is perhaps no view more dramatic than seeing the golden disc of the sun come up slowly through the horizon. It is especially rewarding when you have trekked in the dark before sunrise in order to reach high mountain peaks. This is where you get clear views of the surrounding mountains. Bonus points if you get spectacular natural scenery like the sea of clouds of Mount Pulag in Northern Philippines.

2. Morning: Temples

Kathmandu, Nepal

Kathmandu Durbar Square, Nepal

I found that mornings are the best time to do photo walks in and around temples, at least in many parts of Asia. That is when people head to these sacred structures to pray and make offerings; you won’t be in short supply of interesting subjects. The morning light is perfect, too–it isn’t too harsh, so you don’t get high contrasts in your images, thus capturing important details of your subject.

3. Midday: Islands

Big Lagoon, El Nido, Palawan, Philippines

El Nido, Philippines

Many photographers prefer not taking photos in midday or during the afternoon because there is too much sunlight. This equates to high contrasts, which means harsher shadows–you lose too much of what you are trying to capture. However, I have found that tropical islands are at their best when the sun is high up. The waters become crystal-clear and the turquoise color really becomes saturated.

4. Golden Hour: Beaches

Siquijor, Philippines

Siquijor, Philippines

The golden hour is that 20 to 30 minutes in the late afternoon when the sun is just about to dip below the horizon, thus lending an orange glow to everything. Capturing great images during this period tends to be easier as it is applicable to many places. Cities are lovely during the golden hour, and the same goes for snowy mountains. However, I think there is a consensus that beaches facing west look their best during sunset.

5. Blue Hour: Cities

Gardens by the Bay, Singapore

The Supertrees of Singapore

Cities are indeed beautiful during the golden hour. However, I prefer to photograph urban landscapes the period after the golden hour, that is, the blue hour. It is the period of day when the sun has just set, so there is still a faint glow of light in the sky, turning it blue. Wait for the city lights to switch on and you have yourself a picture-perfect urban landscape.

6. Night: Waterfront

Malacca, Malacca

Malacca River in Malacca, Malaysia

Finally, when the sky has gotten dark, it is time to bring out the tripod and head to the nearest waterfront area. It could be a river or a harbor. The skyline of cities like Hong Kong or Shanghai is perfect during this time of the day. You do not have to confine yourself to big cities, of course. Small towns like Hoi An in Vietnam or Malacca in Malaysia, both defined by their historic rivers, are particularly lovely to photograph, too.

One thing you have to remember, however, is that these are just suggestions. The best thing you can do, really, is to get to know the place you are traveling in. Spend a few more days there, walk around, and observe which part of the day the place bares its soul. You not only get a more rewarding travel experience, but also great photographs to remember these places by.

About the Author

Paul Xymon García

Paul Xymon Garcia is a Filipino, born and bred in Manila. He studied journalism and is now pursuing a career in travel writing and photography. His stories and photos have been published in several Philippine-based publications such as CebuPacific Smile Magazine, Meg Lifestyle Magazine, and Travel Magazine. He has contributed to a photography exhibition organized by the United Nations Population Fund. He blogs at

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