How to Fake Morning Light in Photos

By Michael Ray in Pittsburg, PA.

In my opinion, one of the toughest things to do in food photography and professional photography is to translate the client's words into the photographic medium.

For example, "I want this to look like it's 7:00AM on a Sunday morning in the month of April." Or a client might say, "I want this shot moodier," or they might say, "I want the lighting to be more FUN."

No kidding… I've actually had clients say stuff like that to me! And not just once, either. It happens all the time. The assistants and stylist that I work with all find this to be hilarious. But for the guy that has to translate these words into lighting, it's sometimes far from amusing.

** How to Fake Morning Light

Morning light is a request I get often and I'm still not sure what the heck it really means.

If you think about it, what is the difference between light in the morning and light from other times of day? Well, I guess the first obvious difference is the fact that in the morning, the sun is low on the horizon.  But isn't the sun low on the horizon in the late afternoon too? In my part of the country it is, anyway.

So what's the difference between morning and late afternoon light then?  After all, if it's not the position of the sun and it's not the color temperature of the light (the sun's color temperature is the same when it strikes the earth at the same angle in morning and in evening) then the only two factors I can possibly think of are fog and sleep. I know it sounds weird, and it is, really, but listen to my argument and see if it doesn't make at least a little sense…

Fog happens much more often in the mornings and it tends to "soften" the sunlight streaming through it. The fog also tends to "whiten" the light (don't ask me how) whereas, afternoon light seems to be "warmer" or oranger, right?

Translation: Morning light is "cooler" and "softer" than evening light, meaning you would use a low, relatively large light source with maybe a very slight blue filter over it to cool things off a bit.

Note: If you don't have studio lights and filters, you can also use the window as your light source.  You'll need to diffuse the direct sunlight (if there is any) somehow, though, so you might put up a very sheer curtain.  Don't let the curtain block too much light though.

See my picture at the top of this lesson?  That's a lot of light.

Sleep -- Ok, maybe sleep isn't the right term, but hear me out and see what you think…

When you wake up in the morning, and the bedroom window is open, what's the first thing you say (especially if you were out drinking the night before)?

You say, "Damn, it's bright in here!"

Well, the truth is, it's really not any brighter than afternoon light, but because your pupils were dilated from sleeping, everything seems a little brighter than normal.

Translation… Over expose a little, or maybe be a little selective in the props that you select. Choose "lighter" colored props and it may help reinforce the "morning" feel. You might want to "backlight" the subject a little more, too, to reproduce the "streaming in the window" feel.

So class, what's my advice for faking morning light?

"Use a blue, large, rear, low light… over expose a little… and choose lighter colored props."

Good luck.

[Michael Ray, Pittsburgh Photography, specializes in commercial people photography, editorial portrait photography, Pittsburgh location photography, industrial photography, studio still life photography, and is a talented, nationally regarded food photographer. Michael is considered by many as one of Pittsburgh's premier photographers noted for his photographic lighting expertise.  Website:

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