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How to fake daylight in your photos?

Imagine this scenario. You get back home after a whole day at work or school. It’s already after dark. You missed the opportunity to take the daily photo when there was still daylight available.

Sounds familiar? I bet it does. While it’s good habit to take your daily photo in the morning there’s no way you’ll be able to keep it up for the whole year. So is there a way to fake the daylight? Yes. There is. And it’s easier than you think.

Examples of what you'll learn

I've been faking daylight for couple of weeks now and I think I got better at it. All photos below were taken using the very same technique and equipment described in this tutorial. And thy were all taken at night, in a completely dark room with only one lamp as a light source.

Gobo. Take three. by Paweł Kadysz
Minimalism by Paweł Kadysz
Gobo. Take two. by Paweł Kadysz
My favourite holiday by Paweł Kadysz
Mystery bag by Paweł Kadysz

What you need

A light source

I’m using a Yongnuo 300 II LED lamp. It was made for video, but it works just as well as a source of continuous light for photography. You can even set the light temperature.

Why do I use continuous lighting instead of a strobe or flash? Well, it's much easier to control and set up the light while it's actually on. With strobe it's just guessing, even if it has modelling light on.

If you don't have an LED lamp, you can use just a regular floor lamp.
If you don't have an LED lamp, you can use just a regular floor lamp.

Don’t worry though, You won't have to spend $70 for a LED lamp. For this tutorial we’ll also use a regular floor lamp that you probably have in your living room. In this case I'll be using floor lamp from IKEA.

Light diffuser

Light coming straight from the lamps will be harsh. You need to diffuse it somehow. The cheapest way is to get a big sheet of thin, white fabric. Go to the fabric store and they’ll help you choose the right one. Just tell them you need something to diffuse light nicely.

I paid around 10 USD for this 2x1,5m cloth. A softbox this big would cost hundreds of dollars.
I paid around 10 USD for this 2x1,5m cloth. A softbox this big would cost hundreds of dollars.

If you have a 3 in 1 or 5 in 1 reflector, take off the cover and the inside part should can also be used as a light diffuser.

A tripod

Since the lamps are not that powerful, we’ll have to use longer exposure. It is doable while shooting handheld, but requires turning up the ISO and using wider aperture.

I prefer using tripod, because it also makes setting up the scene easier, since the frame is always the same. And last - if you're taking a photo by yourself, you'll need your hands for modifying the light, so let the self timer release the shutter.

Gobos

Gobo goes for "go before" or "go between". It's a piece of anything, actually that goes between the light source and your scene and casts nice shadows on your object.

For this tutorial I'll be using pieces of cardboard with some stripes cut out. These imitate window blinds. It takes some time to cut out those stripes but it's definitely worth it.

Your gobos don't have to be perfect. Mine obviously aren't but they do the job.
Your gobos don't have to be perfect. Mine obviously aren't but they do the job.

The scene

This technique works only on static objects. It requires long exposure. You could probably set a higher ISO and try shooting handheld, but your image quality will obviously decrease.

Testing the lighting setup with just one object. I'll build the scene later.
Testing the lighting setup with just one object. I'll build the scene later.
Light is nicely diffused with the big sheet of thin fabric. This LED lamp is the only light source in the room.
Light is nicely diffused with the big sheet of thin fabric. This LED lamp is the only light source in the room.

Set the camera on the tripod, and frame the shot exactly how you want it. You'll then build the scene so everything fits nicely in the frame you set up.

Here's my scene. Just random stuff. I could do much better, but I'd rather focus on explaining the light here.
Here's my scene. Just random stuff. I could do much better, but I'd rather focus on explaining the light here.

Camera settings

Keep in mind I shoot in RAW to be able to fix the white balance later. If you're shooting in JPG, you'll have a limited editing options. The aperture is around 4.5-5.6 to keep more things in focus. The exposure time varies from 0.3s to 2s, depending on which lamp and aperture value I'm using.

Here's the result.

What I got straight from the camera. It already looks decent. But there's always room for improvement.
What I got straight from the camera. It already looks decent. But there's always room for improvement.

I edited the color balance and to "flatten" the lights and shadows a bit, I lowered the contrast, toned down the highlights. The final image looks like this.

Final image looks pretty nice. If someone told me it was taken in the late afternoon on a cloudy day, I'd believe it.
Final image looks pretty nice. If someone told me it was taken in the late afternoon on a cloudy day, I'd believe it.

Now use gobos

The result above looks nice. But there's still a way to make it look even more natural. Let's play with gobos and shadows they cast. Let's start with something simple. A plain piece of cardboard.

Try different angles. Tilt it a bit. Move it around until you get a natural looking effect.
Try different angles. Tilt it a bit. Move it around until you get a natural looking effect.
Image straight from the camera. Looks like there's a piece of furniture blocking the light on the left. It could be a wardrobe. Nobody need to know it was just a piece of cardboard.
Image straight from the camera. Looks like there's a piece of furniture blocking the light on the left. It could be a wardrobe. Nobody need to know it was just a piece of cardboard.
2 minutes in Lightroom to fix the color balance. Looking good.
2 minutes in Lightroom to fix the color balance. Looking good.

Let's make it even more interesting. How about we put some blinds between the light and the scene. And by blinds I mean that gobo we made earlier.

When using these gobos I remove the big white sheet. The light goes straight through the gobo and hits the object. No diffuser on the way.

Practice casting shadows. It's much easier to cast it on the wall, than on the objects on the table. You probably won't get it perfect first time. I didn't.
Practice casting shadows. It's much easier to cast it on the wall, than on the objects on the table. You probably won't get it perfect first time. I didn't.
Image straight from the camera. Definitely need some tweaks.
Image straight from the camera. Definitely need some tweaks.
White and color balance fixed. I really like the flare on that old analog camera lens.
White and color balance fixed. I really like the flare on that old analog camera lens.

Trying the floor lamp

I must admit, I wasn't sure if this would work with the regular floor lamp, but it did. Obviously it required changing the white balance and much longer exposure (regular lamp is much less powerful than the LED), but it worked.

You can see the room is much darker. This requires longer exposure time.
You can see the room is much darker. This requires longer exposure time.
Image straight from the camera. Looks good, but can be improved.
Image straight from the camera. Looks good, but can be improved.
Final image exported from Lightroom. Worked a little on the color balance.
Final image exported from Lightroom. Worked a little on the color balance.

Let's make it more interesting with some gobos. The technique is the same. I removed the diffuser. The light goes straight through the gobo.

Again, try different angles to get the best result.
Again, try different angles to get the best result.
Image straight from the camera. I was surprised how well it came out. I could've used a longer exposure time for this one.
Image straight from the camera. I was surprised how well it came out. I could've used a longer exposure time for this one.
Final image. Just a few adjustments.
Final image. Just a few adjustments.

And this is it. Now you know how it's done, and you must admit it's easier than you thought. Build different scenes, make different gobos. Get creative. It was a lot of fun for me and I hope it will be for you.

I'm looking forward to seeing your photos taken using this technique. If you use it, tag your photos with "fake-daylight" keyword, so I can track your photos down. Also, if you liked this tutorial, please share it with your friends.

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  • Agnieszka Wichrowska

    Cool article 😀 Every day I learn something on tookapic....thank you!

    • Michael Gatton

      Awesome, thanks for the insights!

      • Alek Jedliński

        Great stuff, will have to try it!

        • Bartłomiej Jacak

          I must try it! Nice article 😀

          • 365 Shades of Calvados

            This is a great tutorial! Thanks! Good job! 😀

            • Satoshi T

              nice text and pics.it's very clearly to understand 😀 thank you!

              • Jan Šlégr

                @pawelkadysz It's definitely nice and easy way to fake the daylight, but I would be careful when using bigger light source (yongnuo) without diffuser. The shadows casted would be always too blurry or multiplied (not like the daylight – one very bright spot on sky). One very important aspect, I would like to mention, is the ambient light. If you want to have the look of daylight I am pretty sure you need to shoot it in decently bright environment (white walls) not studio black or grey walls. Black walls would make huge difference and would look fake. Also adding a bit of blue (cast of the sky) to the shadows would make it more believable. What do you think?

                • Paweł Kadysz

                  The closer you get the gobo to your subject, the less blurry the shadow is. You can easily adjust that. And as for the black walls - you can get great results as well: +Gobo

                  The more neutral the light is, the better. Every food photographer that shoots using ambient daylight will tell you that the best light is the one they get on a cloudy afternoon - not much of a blue tone.

                  • Jan Šlégr

                    Hello Paweł, I meant the light source itself without gobo or difuser. Of course there are relative distances playing huge role on how sharp or soft the shadow would be. The result with black walls – I just wanted to mention it's more natural, that light bounces everywhere because of the bright sunlight, I admit, the photo is pretty good, but such deep shadows seems kinda fake to me.
                    And about the neutrality of the light – its different in food photography or color-perfect product photography, but when faking such light, you should consider the reality, that harsh sunlight is usually in one hand with blue sky cast shadows.

                  • Paweł Kadysz

                    Sure, white walls and table help a lot.

                    As for the blue sky and shadows - taking photos with harsh sunlight is a bad idea in the first place.

                • Magda Ko

                  Great tutorial, I am impressed. Need to try one day.

                  • ~tout~est~mervielleux~

                    Thanks for the tutorial 😀 Definitely wanna try this!

                    • madeline_collins

                      I finally am able to use a softer light to my photos on my website lifeproductsreviews.com Thank you so much! I had asked other bloggers on how they would fake the daylight, and I either get ignored or one of them told me they just have two big windows that they use as daylight. But I had asked myself, I do not think their location is always daylight and no gloom from rain. lol! Thank you for finally helping me. Have a beautiful week! 😀

                      • Rafał Morawiec

                        Wow, that's awesome! ❤️

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                        Pawel from Tookapic

                        Hi, I’m happy to help you with any tookapic subject, however, before you send me a message, please look at Help section where you can find answers for most questions.

                        We’ll reply shortly!

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