Don’t Dismiss Daylight Hours for Taking Great Photos

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As nature photographers, we usually prefer photographing during morning or evening light. We’ll often use the daylight hours to scout new locations and plan out different compositions for returning when there is optimal light later. Sometimes various daylight conditions can present perfect opportunities for taking great photos. Here are 4 examples of the kind of conditions to take advantage of during the daylight hours:

1. Grey & Overcast Skies

Being that I am from the Pacific Northwest I have seen my share of rainy or overcast conditions. I don’t let these conditions stop me. If I did, I would really miss out on some great light because there are more days like this than not!

Moisture on the foliage and soft light are perfect conditions for photographing streams, rivers and particularly, waterfalls. I absolutely love photographing waterfalls on days like this.

These are also often optimal conditions for getting close ups or macro images. So definitely look around for these types of opportunities.

As long as you are prepared by being dressed properly and have protection for your gear, you can enjoy several hours out in the elements.


Gorton Creek within the Columbia River Gorge, Oregon.

Flowing creek water nestled among mossy rocks at near the base of Elk Creek Falls and the Coquille River. Southeast of Coos Bay, in Powers, Oregon.

Flowing creek water nestled among mossy rocks.

2. Sunlight & Puffy Clouds

Sunlight with puffy clouds sounds like perfect conditions but it can be difficult to get the right exposures. The sky might get blown out and the shadows may have heavy contrasts.

After finding your desired compositions, you should be prepared to wait it out and see how the light changes as the clouds move and the sunlight shifts around.

When I took this series of images from the Palouse in Washington, I had to wait several minutes until I felt I had good photos as the clouds moved and the sunlight highlighted the hilltops. I only had to make minor adjustments in post processing because the photos were pretty good straight out of the camera.

Canola and wheat fields merge to highlight a shaded barn on a beautiful day in the Palouse, Washington.

Palouse Highlights

Canola Field & Barn

Canola Field & Barn

3. Cloudless Sunny Days

A super sunny, cloudless day can be really tough to photograph in. This too might be too contrasty and bright.

Here are a few ideas depending on the type of location you are at:

  • For photographing waterfalls, rivers, streams, consider leaving out your sky in the image. Also use neutral density filters to reduce the amount of light. You’ll probably already be using a polarizing filter to reduce the glare on the water.
  • For calm rivers or streams, look for mirror reflections. These are perfect reasons to include your clear sky in the composition.
  • For ocean beaches with rocks, shells, sea life, plant life or driftwood, you might find interesting compositions you can photograph close up so as to minimize the sky in your shot.
  • In forested areas you might look for sunlight filtering through the trees. You can shoot a sunburst by using a smaller aperture.
  • If you are in an arid desert area consider making use of backlight on cacti.
  • For sand dunes consider composing without the sky and focusing on the details and shadows in the sand.

Concretion embedded within sand stone.

Agave plant near Deming, New Mexico.

Agave plant near Deming, New Mexico.

4. Smokey or Foggy Conditions

We all know smoke or fog can contribute to nice conditions during a sunrise or sunset, but it can also help out during daylight hours.

If there is smoke or fog on a sunny day, filtered light can create some interesting effects like light beams or streaming light. If you have trees around in a forested area, this can make for a beautiful and dramatic image!

Foggy conditions at a beach or within a forested area can also contribute to some nice, moody images.

Fog & reflections along the Umpqua River.

Light & fog creating light beams.

Light & fog creating light beams.

I hope I have given you a few ideas to make your photography trips more productive during daylight hours. Maybe you have ideas you can share that I didn’t mention. Feel free to leave a comment and let us know what you do during daylight hours while out on a photography trip!

For more help with photography tips and techniques check out the following related information:


About Author Patricia Davidson

Patricia Davidson is an award-winning outdoor photographer, specializing in landscape, commercial and editorial assignments, and travel photography. Patricia has spent the last 20 years living on the beautiful Southern Oregon Coast where she developed her landscape photography skills. Currently, she and her husband live nomadically, traveling in their RV throughout the western United States. With a background in the visual arts and web development, she sets out to produce images that express her artistic vision and passion for photography, as well as her love of nature and the outdoors.