I’m going to sound a bit silly when I say this: photography, in essence, is painting with light. Not all light is created equal, and light changes throughout the day. One of the strongest tools in our kitbag is deciding which kind of light we want to work in. Sometimes it’s said of photographers that we “just press a button”, that we happen upon a situation and click away. I must state, emphatically, that such a statement won’t gain you many photographer friends. Like all artists, we compose, we choose our subject matter, and we create art to communicate something. It’s something I’ve scratched my head over a lot – the best time of day for outdoor family photography. Being self employed means seeking out training and professional development at the right time, so that is what I did.

Training Day

And so I spent an overcast Friday afternoon in April learning about which kind of light is best. It’s something I’ve been discovering for a long time now, after many of the criticisms in my diploma were based on the time of day I was shooting in. But I, like many parents of small kids, have very little choice in what I do at particular times of day. From 5pm onwards I am in a cycle of feeding small people, picking at their leftovers, getting soaked while my 18 month old menace splashes away in the bath, milk, stories, bed time, grown up dinner, and cleaning up. I see the golden light starting to pour through the window. This frustration battle isn’t one I enjoy fighting. I decided to train with Nina Mace, to see how she balances the demands of family life and the best times of day for outdoor family photography (hint: Golden Hour).


Part One

The Friday in question was a dull but dry day, fairly typical of an English spring day. We crossed our fingers for brighter shafts of light to break through the clouds, and headed out with our cameras.

outdoor family photography, golden hour, family photography ripleyoutdoor family photography, golden hour, family photography ripleyI was blown away. Nina had me using a lens I’d barely picked up before (apart from to see how heavy it is, and quickly replace it in my box of rarely used photography gubbins). She had me laying on the ground, backing up into bushes,
using sun trackers on my phone to discover the light source, and, my favourite part of family sessions, playing with awesome kids.

Part Two

After 90 minutes we headed back inside to stuff our faces with cake and discover what we’d learnt. I was blown away by the images we’d got. A quick cup of tea and time to head back out. By now it was 5.30 and we were heading into the fabled “Golden Hour”. This is the time of day when the sun hangs low in the sky, the light softens into a golden glow with long, sideways shadows and flatters everyone, regardless of their translucent skin. It’s amazing for landscapes, my tutors had assured me. I was skeptical. I mean, I’d seen the results other photographers had achieved at this time of day, but I often doubt my ability to harness the light in the way they can.

outdoor family photography, golden hour, family photography ripley

outdoor family photography, golden hour, family photography ripley outdoor family photography, golden hour, family photography ripley
And OMG, suddenly it was me! I was doing this! I was running through fields to place models in these glorious bursts of light. I glanced at my phone. 6.15pm. Effie would be soaking her father right now. Oh well! Click, click, click. I snapped away like a trigger happy maniac. I laughed. I was amazed.

outdoor family photography, golden hour, family photography ripley


The Golden Hour in Real Life Outdoor Photography Sessions

It’s the holidays and the kids in part two are between 6 and 12 years old. This time of day is absolutely fine for them to be out ; they weren’t tired, and their behaviour was fine. They displayed the desired amount of cheeky playfulness for real life photographs. They played, laughed and ran around. But as my mind flitted back to my own children and my by-now soaking wet husband, I wondered exactly how they’d cope in this situation. I know that unless they both had a long nap in the middle of the afternoon I’d be up a certain creek without a paddle if I tried to do this with them. What strategy could I use to get the glowy light without strops? Golden hour starts around 5, so I could schedule sessions for then. Or else, a morning session could garner something approaching this result. Whatever I choose, I will never do outdoor family photography sessions during lunchtime again!