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Finding the Perfect Light for Your Engagement Session

Most of my clients’ engagement sessions take place outdoors, and the easiest and dare I say most beautiful light to use for couples’ portraits is the one already given to us — the sun — or to use the photographer’s technical term for it, natural light.

But not all-natural light is created equal. Perhaps you have a few squinty selfies in your phone’s camera roll from impromptu photo sessions at high noon, while other images in your camera roll are flattering selfies taken in that oh-so-perfect window light. If you’re interested in finding the perfecting light for your engagement session, then read on.

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Noon is a no-no.

If you schedule your engagement session at noon (or even between the hours of 10 am to 2 pm, really), we’ll be limited to shooting in areas of open shade. The overhead light of the sun at midday is just too harsh to make beautiful portraits in most situations. You’ll be squinting because it’s so bright, and the harsh shadows under your eyes and chin are not flattering.

Plus, midday is the hottest time to be out during the summer months, and no one wants to take sweaty photos. If you do find yourself shooting near the middle of the day, plan to take breaks to cool off and have some water. If your man tends to get sweaty, it’s a good idea to pack a handkerchief so he can dab off his forehead between shots. Plan outfits around light, comfortable clothes, so you don’t overheat!

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Find the “Golden Hour” instead.

So, when should you set your engagement session? If you love dreamy, golden light, then start or finish your day with photos. That means shooting just after sunrise, or right before sunset. To be more specific, the “golden hour” happens for about 60 minutes right after the sun comes up, and conversely, about 60 minutes before it goes down. We call it the “golden hour” because of how pretty and soft the light is compared to midday.

Keep in mind, though, that sunrise and sunset times change throughout the year. While a midsummer golden hour session might take place somewhere around 7 or 8 pm, an autumn session might happen twos hour sooner! But don’t worry, I partner with my clients to identify sunrise and sunset times and plan our sessions accordingly.

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What if we can’t shoot during the golden hour?

Don’t get work up if you can’t book your session at the very beginning or end of the day. The hours before and after the “golden hour” can be just as beautiful, too. Why? Because the sunlight is still directional. Because the sun isn’t shining down on you from above like midday, we can still create soft, beautiful portraits, and enjoy more scheduling flexibility in the process. 

In a similar vein, don’t let a cloudy day leave you feeling grey and down. Overcast days can make for great engagement session weather. Overcast skies provide a beautiful of clouds above us that diffuse the sun, spreading soft, dreamy light everyone. If you don’t believe me, just check out this image of Megan and Osaze, shot beneath a very cloudy sky:

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