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Tips for Making the Most of Morning Light for Portraits

There’s something about taking photos in the magical morning light that makes my heart so happy. Maybe it’s because of the extra effort it takes to be outside in the crisp morning air when your family is still in bed. It could also be because morning sessions are more uncommon, so they feel a little more special. Most likely it’s because that soft, beautiful light just glows, and looks just a little different from the light later in the day, or evening.

How to Make the Most of Magical Morning Light

If you’re a night owl, and can’t imagine getting out of a nice warm bed just to take some pictures, let me try and convince you to give it a try. You might become a morning person, just for that incredibly gorgeous morning light.

Tips for Making the Most of Morning Light for Portraits

Time it Right

The best time to start a morning session is right around sunrise. I have an app on my phone that will tell me what time the sun rises in my area on any date. I like to start about 15 minutes after sunrise. The light level is usually fairly low right at sunrise, so I give a little bit of time for things to lighten up before starting.

The nice thing about using that morning golden hour versus the evening golden hour is that you can take as much time as you need. In the evening you have to decide when it’s the exact right time to start. You want to use the best light right near sunset, but you don’t want to start too late and not have enough time before it’s too dark. If you start too early, you could be done before the beautiful golden sunset light shows up.

Morning light at sunrise takes care of that problem. You start with that gorgeous glowy light and shoot until you’re done. No light is ever wasted.

How to Make the Most of Magical Morning Light - portrait

Morning Weather is Usually Good

Depending on where you live, you might have better luck with the weather in the morning. In my area, it’s usually less windy than it can get in the afternoon. Most mornings are calm and still. Oftentimes there’s a light hazy cloud cover that makes any shooting direction work, so you can use your backgrounds to their fullest extent.

More often the rain and storms come a little bit later in the day. It’s not always the case that you get beautiful weather in the morning, but more often than not, it’s perfect conditions for shooting.

The only negative would be during the colder times of the year when mornings are brisk, or even downright freezing. I just instruct my subject to dress warm, and I wear fingerless gloves and a coat with pockets, so I can try to keep my hands as warm as possible.

How to Make the Most of Magical Morning Light - golden portraits of two girls

Morning Light has a Special Quality

There’s a softness to morning light that you just don’t see most afternoons and evenings. It feels like it wraps around the subject a little more, and has a bit less intensity compared to light later in the day. It can be easier to work with because you won’t have as much glare in your lens when backlighting (facing your subject away from the sun).

You can face your subject toward the sun easier too, because the light isn’t quite as harsh, so they don’t squint as much. The shadows on faces aren’t as pronounced, and everything feels a bit softer. The light isn’t usually as warm as it is in the evening, so sometimes I warm the photos up a bit more in post-processing, but there are times when the cooler light is simply stunning.

How to Make the Most of Magical Morning Light

Be Different, Learn Something New

Many times when I’ve shared photos from a morning session, people have told me that they love the photos, but they don’t quite know what makes them so special. Most photographers are out there during the evening golden hour, and that little bit of difference you’ll see in a morning photo will set you apart from everyone else.

Your photos will have a quality to them that other photographers might not be able to put their finger on. I don’t do every photo session in the morning, in fact, most of my sessions are later in the day, but doing something different, outside of the norm, sets you apart from other photographers, and it also opens you up to more inspiration and creativity.

Every time we do something a little different, we learn new things, and sometimes discover something new that takes our photography to the next level. Shooting in the morning is just one of those things you can do differently, but it’s a big one. It might even be a game changer for you.

How to Make the Most of Magical Morning Light

Wake Up

How do you convince your next photography subject to get up early in the morning and get ready for a photo session when they could be sleeping longer? How do you convince yourself to get out in the brisk morning air with your camera when you could be snuggled under the covers?

The best way to convince anyone is to look at the results. I’ve had clients get up at 4:00 am to be ready for a session because beautiful photos were more important than a little bit more sleep. They can always take a nap later. If you can convince one person to give it a try, you might convince a lot more to do it too, once they see those photos.

You will love the feeling of accomplishing something wonderful first thing in the morning, and then having the rest of the day to edit and play. So, set that alarm and give that morning light a try!

How to Make the Most of Magical Morning Light

Are you a lover of a beautiful sunrise and glowing morning light? Share your morning photos, people or nature, in the comments. I’d love to see what you’ve captured while your neighbors were still in their pajamas!

How to Make the Most of Magical Morning Light

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Melinda Smith
Melinda Smith

was born to be a teacher. She teaches violin lessons and fitness classes, as well as photography classes and mentoring. She lives on a mini farm in Eastern Utah with her camera, husband, kids, chickens, horses, bunnies, dogs, and cats. Visit her at Melinda Smith Photography.

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