Morning light...?

Morning food shot

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 AM 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 swords into lighting, it’s sometimes far from amusing.

I’ll do you guys a favor and tell you what I’ve learned in the way of translating the language or Art Director into the medium of "food photography". Since there is no standard to refer to regarding the language of "Art Director", the definitions that I am about to give you may vary form region-to-region, or even from Art Director to Art Director. For now, here is one term and it’s meaning.

Morning light – I get this one all the time, and I’m still not sure what the heck it really means, but the clients keep coming back, so I guess I’m doing something right. 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, right? One problem… Isn’t the sun low on the horizon in the late afternoon too? In my part of the country it is.

What is the difference then between morning and late afternoon light then? It’s really a stretch, but this is what I came up with. I think that is has to do with diffusion and color temperature. Even though the sun’s color temperature is the same when it strikes the earth at the same angle in morning and in evening, there are a couple of other factors that become introduced that could possibly make the difference, at least in the subconscious of the average Art Director. 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) where as, 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 either over the light source to cool things off a bit.

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 is the affect? Right after you curse yourself for drinking too much the night before, what is your reaction? Damn, it’s bright in here! 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 to reproduce the "streaming in the window" feel too.

So class, what did the crazy guy come up with? In Art Directorese, morning light means, "Use a blue, large, rear, low light and over expose a little."

Good luck.

P o r t f o l i o: These images are from Michael's portfolio. Click on any one of them to take you to see his on-line food photographer's portfolio.