If like me, you’re tired of those overprocessed portraits shot during golden hour or at sunset that crowd your online portfolios or your Instagram feed, then perhaps you should consider rising early for your portrait session.
Of late, I have been shooting a lot in the afternoon, hunting that golden light on the west coast of Mauritius, the island where I live. There is something very poetic about the soft golden light and the warm sky hues of the afternoon. But then, I am a bit fed up of seeing so many photos of bikini-clad models or people next to bonfires or with sparklers shot during the golden hour. I am fed up of shooting the same kind of sun-kissed images over and over again. It dawned on me that I got quite dependent on that warm light, because changing settings and doing an entirely different thing during a sunset shoot would take me more time than it should. I was annoyed as during golden hour, every minute is precious.
Last week, I met with a client of mine who was doing a shoot for her brand for the first time. She had no idea how I conducted my shoots, and so she asked me at what time we should start shooting. I saw her mood board and I thought her style would work great in the afternoon light. It would be so easy to shoot at that time for me. But then I paused and realized shooting in the morning light would work as well. Instead of saying that we should shoot in the mid-afternoon at the beach, I said 6 a.m. I’d done it in the past, but now was the time to get back to it. So, we shot at 6 a.m. on a fine Monday morning, and I did not regret my choice, not for one second.
While I love having shots of my models basking in the warm light of the afternoon, I find that morning is the best moment of the day for a portrait session. It has become my favorite playground. I say this because I noted how shooting subjects after sunrise can alter the look of your usual shoots for the best and refresh your style.
If your client does not have any requirements about the time he or she wants to carry out the shoot, then perhaps you can go for the morning light. Yes, it’s tough to drag your body out of bed at 4:30 a.m., but there are many advantages to rising early for a shoot:
- Sunrise is the coolest time of the day and where the beauty of the morning light resides. Because the angle between Earth's surface and the sun is reduced in the morning, there are less dust particles and haze in the air. It adds more punch and intensifies the colors in your shot. Even on a foggy morning, you can still do wonders and make colors come out more vividly.
- The morning light offers a bigger window than that of the golden hour. You can work longer with almost the same light and keep the same tones in your pictures, especially when you’re shooting with natural light only.
- If you like dark blue skies, try shooting early in the morning with a circular polarizer or perhaps a graduated neutral density filter if you want some exceptionally dramatic skies. Adding a reflector to the shot can help light up your model almost like you had some artificial lights.
- One of the best things about shooting so early is that you wrap up early as well. I love that I can go home at 11 a.m., have lunch, rest a bit, and still have time to reply to emails and do some editing for some other work.
- And last, in case something goes wrong in the morning and you really have no option, you have a second chance to carry on with your shoot in the afternoon. It may not be what you wanted, but if your team is not available on another day, it’s better than nothing.
Do note that for such morning shoots, it’s always a must to have a good assistant to help you with the light. If you’re not using a strobe, just a reflector can go a long way to fill in those shadows on the face and body. I know how hard it is to wake up early for a 6 a.m. shoot, and you will need to convince your team and models to do the same. But give it a try and share your results and experience.
Images used with permission of Emma Grigoryan.