When a website represents your business online, you can’t really afford for it to have bad photos running around scaring away your customers. Hiring a professional photographer for your business images is the best solution, but it’s not always practical for everybody. So a lot of website owners resort to taking their own photos, or having somebody on their staff with a decent camera do the job for them.
There are “How to Take Good Photos” tutorials plastered all over the Internet. Many of them are very useful, but most of them fail to address one important question: When should you take the outdoor photos that you want to put on your website? There are a couple of “time” considerations involved.
Time of year. This is probably the factor most frequently overlooked. Sometimes it may be considered and discarded because the timing of the new website project doesn’t coincide with the best time of year to take photos. It’s less of a factor in sub-tropical climates, where the landscaping stays relatively green and the skies are usually sunny throughout the winter. In less temperate regions, however, the time of year can have a major impact on the quality of outdoor location photos and business “building mugshots.”
In northerly climates, taking outdoor business photography during the late fall and winter is generally a bad idea. Snow might look lovely — if you’re a fan of the frozen stuff — but it seldom photographs as well as you think it will. Depending on how much vegetation you have around your business, winter photos taken when there’s no snow look like either a meteor-blasted moon crater or a skeletal Charles Addams landscape — neither of which is very inviting.
If the timing of your website project gives you little choice in the time of year for your photos, then you should plan (and budget) for swapping in more inviting, summer images as soon as the warmer months roll around.
Time of day. Your keen powers of observation can help you out with this one. The “best” time of day for outdoor photos will depend a lot on the specific location. Find a time of day when important building details — like the name of your business — aren’t obscured by shadows or swallowed up by the contrast between your subject and a more brightly lit background. If possible, avoid taking photos around midday when sunlight is the most direct and causes the most problems with tone and contrast.
The hour or so right after sunrise, and the same time frame right before sunset, are what photographers and cinematographers call the “Golden Hour.” When they’re working outdoors, professional shooters are always on the lookout for perfect light — and the Golden Hour is usually when they find it. When the sun is lower to the horizon, atmospheric refraction gives sunlight a warmer color cast, while the effects of diffusion reduce the difference between the intensity of the most direct light and outdoor ambient light (the “lighting ratio,” in photospeak). Catch the light just right during the Golden Hour, and you may be able to make even a stark concrete building facade look warm and welcoming.