Client Tips

The Best Time of Day to Schedule Your Family Portrait Session

April 17, 2019

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A sunny gal from Cali living in the south of France. I adore slow living, magic, and celebrating the simple joys of daily life. I’m a self-proclaimed Disney nerd (as is my husband!), obsessed with cats and cocoa, and you can often find me swimming with the fishies in the salty sea. Come along and enjoy the magic, the simple joys of life with me...



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The Best Time of Day to Schedule Your Family Photos

To schedule your family portrait session at golden hour or not? That is the REAL question.

It is a question I ask in every inquiry email:

“Do you want your family portraits to be held before sunset or would you rather a morning or afternoon session?

As a photographer, I am an expert in finding the best light source in any and all daylight condition, however, as an artist, I much prefer scheduling portrait sessions 90 minutes before sunset – also known as “golden hour.”

baby and family photographer Connecticut during golden hour light

I’ll be the first one to tell you that I am sooooo not a morning person. And kids can often be a bit cranky later in the evening before their bedtime – hey, they don’t call it “witching hour” for nothing! But there is a big reason why photographers always insist on photographing subjects during this particular time.

Here’s why (I’ll give you a hint!):

It Has to Do With the Most Flattering Light

Direct sunlight in the middle of the day casts the harshest and strongest shadows, resulting in unpleasant squints and dark shadows on faces. It’s not a flattering look, and to even those that don’t understand the lighting rules of photography, it’s quite obvious that a mid-day shoot in broad sunlight doesn’t look ideal. In order to get stunning portraits, I pay the most attention to where the light is hitting my subjects. Soft, even light – preferably with some yummy golden ray backlight filtering through – is what I am always searching for.

In order to get that soft light and golden glow, I tend to schedule most of my outdoor family portrait sessions within 90 minutes of sunset.

Best Time of Day For Outdoor Family Portraits baby in golden hour backlight with Connecticut photographer

How Do I Find Out the Ideal Lighting Times?

Using an online sunset calculator, I schedule all of my outdoor family portrait sessions to end 30 minutes before the scheduled sunset. So, if the sunset is scheduled for 8:00 p.m. and it’s a 90-minute Signature session, we’ll start at 6:00 p.m.

Lighting Makes or Breaks A Successful Portrait Session

Part of being a great photographer is knowing how to schedule your sessions for the best light. The other part is knowing how to find that great light once you’ve arrived on-location. Most of my locations, aside from clients’ homes and backyards, I’ve photographed countless times before, so I already know well in advance where the light will hit certain areas at certain times.

baby and mother holding hands family photographer

What Also Affects the Best Light?


The sunset changes with the seasons. In the summertime, the sun sets much later and far earlier in the wintertime. Even from month to month, the sunset changes by 20 – 30 minutes, so you can’t assume any two months will be the same!


On clear sunny days, schedule your sessions to end 30 minutes before sunset. On cloudy days, though, plan to end your sessions at least an hour before the scheduled sunset, because depending on the thickness and position of the clouds, the sun will be gone and the sky will be dark in the last hour of the day.

Best Time of Day For Outdoor Family Portraits baby in golden hour backlight with Connecticut photographer

What If My Kids Are Unhappy During Evening Golden Hour?

Your session may coincide with that dreaded “witching hour” that so many of us know about, but I’ve never not been able to get stunning portraits of children during golden hour.

Easy Fix!

Schedule Your Evening Session During the Fall Months

The sun sets much earlier in October and November than during the summer, so if you want golden hour light in your family portraits, plan on booking one of our coveted Fall dates – your little one(s) will be much happier that he/she can get to bed earlier! 

Best Time of Day For Outdoor Family Portraits baby in golden hour backlight with Connecticut photographer

Relaxing Your Children

The most important thing is that you as their parent remain relaxed and calm throughout the session. In a previous blog post, I wrote my best tips on getting those natural smiles from children during a session. I won’t have you spend a ton of time frozen in posed potions. I will pose you, but the majority of those real moments happen after you’ve relaxed and enjoyed these moments with your children.

I am here to document the love, joy and soulfulness of your present time with your family. Enjoy it. A professional family portrait session does not happen every day. This is special, and you will love your gallery and artwork even more if you are relaxed, playful, and calm.  

Can We Schedule Our Family Session in the Afternoon – not during Golden Hour?

Absolutely! I am able to find the best light in any situation. When it’s broad daylight and the shadows are harsh, I will photograph you and your kids in open shade. It won’t have that magical backlight or golden glow – which I’ve written about here – but the lighting will be even and soft…which is the most important.

sibling children and kids photographed by Connecticut NYC family photographer Helena Woods

Sibling brothers photographed in Central Park NYC during the afternoon in open shade

Backyard Family Sessions at Home 

Before we schedule your custom 90 minute Signature Session at your home/backyard, please send me a photo of your yard so I can make sure there is plenty of open shade (front porch, trees,etc).

Only our Signature Session clients may have their sessions at home and in their yard. For our shorter mini session, we offer our studio’s Simplicity Sessions at one of three chosen locations in Fairfield County Connecticut or New York City. 

Overcast Days

If your session is scheduled for a day when it is overcast, the same rules apply but the lighting overall will be much softer. I happen to love shooting during overcast days as the contrast and shadows are less obvious!

Best Time of Day For Outdoor Family Portraits baby in golden hour backlight with Connecticut photographer

Interested in Scheduling a Golden Hour Family Session?

If you’d like to join my newsletter and receive love notes of joyful inspiration, encouragement, and to be the first to get on my boutique studio’s family session calendar openings (helloooo Fall and cherry blossom sessions!), click here. I only share these coveted dates to those on my email list, and I begin booking these popular cherry blossom sessions 9-12 months out.

At most, I send out love notes directly to your email twice a month, so don’t worry – I definitely won’t spam ya!

Are you expecting a baby or looking for a family and at home newborn photographer?

I travel all over New York City, Connecticut and France for my clients. I recently returned from Portugal, Germany and San Diego and I am next off to Connecticut and New York in October and November! You can view at more detailed look at my travel schedule HERE. Please inquire for session details and more information on booking.

A few more teasers from this destination portrait session with the T. Family in Strasbourg France…

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I'm Helena, your new kindred spirit.

Sunny free-spirit, writer and creator in love with documenting the simple joys of life. I am passionate about noticing light and truth around me and reflecting it back to others.

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