For better using of inverse synthetic aperture radar (ISAR) images of ship targets, it is more desirable to select a proper imaging time to obtain high quality top-view or side-view images. However, optimum imaging time selection is not robust enough for the restriction of traditional geometric feature extraction methods. In our study, we propose a method based on the geometric features and gradient maximization. First, we select the imaging instant from radar echoes by the centerline and mainmast of the ship. In this part, we propose a geometric features extraction method to improve the robustness of instant selection in different scenarios. Then, an image gradient maximization is employed to estimate the period for ISAR imaging. Finally, experimental results of both simulated and real signals are provided to demonstrate the effectiveness and practicability of the algorithm.