What’s the Best Time to Start an Outdoor Movie?

If you are a long-time reader of the Outdoor Movie Projectors website you will be familiar with my advice about the best time to start a backyard movie. As a rule of thumb, always wait until it’s dark to press play. I would never recommend that you try to watch a movie outdoors in daylight hours or in the sunshine. It simply won’t work very well.

No matter how good or powerful your outdoor movie projector is, and no matter what the manufacturer says with regards to the lumens available, it’s never going to be able to win a battle with the sun.

Even once the sun has gone down, I still recommend that you start your outdoor or backyard movie a little while after sunset.

The point here is that you should ideally press play on your movie is once Civil Twilight has ended. But what’s Civil Twilight I hear you say? That’s a good question and you can see the answer below which comes courtesy of the Time and Date website.

“Civil twilight is the brightest of the 3 twilight phases. The Sun is just below the horizon, so there is generally enough natural light to carry out most outdoor activities.”

I recommend that you watch your outdoor movie once Civil Twilight is over because at this point you can be sure that any light from the Sun has gone, and you aren’t going to get any interference when projecting video onto an outdoor movie screen.

If you aren’t sure when Civil Twilight is over, you can use the Time and Date website again to check, as they list them depending on what area of the world you live in.

As an example, here is how they present data if you live in San Francisco on the 7th of February 2017.

Civil Twilight Times in San Francisco
An example of how you can find out the recommended time to start your outdoor movie.

Can You Start an Outdoor Movie Earlier Than This?

There are some occasions when you might be able to press play a little bit earlier than the end of Civil Twilight time, but it all depends on the weather.

For example, if it’s an overcast day with plenty of clouds, then you might be able to get away with starting 20 minutes before this time. The only thing you can really do is check to see what the projected video looks like on your screen.

One thing that you could do is place the outdoor movie screen facing away from sunset. This might give you a small advantage, letting you press play before it gets completely dark.

Additional Tips for Getting the Best Projected Image Outdoors

Deciding when you start your backyard movie party is just one part of the equation. The quality of your projected image will very much depend on how good your outdoor movie projector is.

I recommend that you choose one which has at least 3,300 lumens. That level of brightness will mean that you can watch movies in the dark, and even ambient light sources such as passing traffic, house lights, lanterns, or fires shouldn’t interfere too much.

I have put together a list of outdoor projectors that are ideal for backyard movies. To browse though, and to pick one to suit your own budget, then please click here.

Switch Off Any Lights

If you can, make sure to switch off any lights in your house if they are coming into your backyard. You should be able to get away with having small lanterns and strip lights in your yard, but for any large light source, make sure that you switch them off before pressing play.

Living in a busy street or neighborhood can present problems as there will be ambient light that you cannot control.

If that is the case, run a test viewing the night before your actual outdoor movie party. If light from neighbors, street lights, or traffic is playing havoc with the image, then I would recommend that you place the movie screen as far away from those light sources as possible.

Moving your screen and projector around a little to test the differences in position and how ambient light affects the image is always a good idea and is an essential part of any planning.

It’s also worth considering the material of the screen that you project onto. Many people use bedsheets, but they do tend to look transparent and can wrinkle or blow in the wind.

I would always recommend that you use a built-for-purpose outdoor movie screen, or buy actual material designed to be projected against.

For product recommendations, go take a look at my suggested screens page.