Dynamic Lighting & Environment Composition (Part 2)

General / 21 February 2021

7. Mood and Time of Day

You should now have everything set up. It's just a case of tweaking the colour, intensity and angle of the directional light, sky light and use fog to drastically change the different moods and times of day to match your reference/moodboard or whatever idea you have in your head while reading this article.

Alternate moods and times of day

There are various ways to control the mood and time of day in a scene, such as to play with the contrast, light and dark areas, shadows, colour, fog and post-process, I'd recommend trying to break down how it looks in your reference and then try to replicate it step by step, trying not to overdo it in the post-process stage.

Let's have a go creating some different moods and times of day in our scene.

(Both of these examples are provided in the project.)

Day Example

Day example settings

I used the sky spheres ‘Sun Height’ to sit the sit the sun just behind the focal point. I increased the brightness of the sun and the used a warm temperature for the directional light to really make the scene feel warm. For the sky light I used blue just to balance out the image and prevent it from being overly orange. I think this looked quite nice as it made the shadows a bit colder and added some extra contrast. If you can see the sun then it's important to make sure that the direction light is facing in the same direction for the shadows to make sense so adjust the directional light accordingly.

Night Example

Night example settings

I brought the sky spheres ‘Sun Height’ right down and adjusted the cloud opacity and star brightness to get a convincing night sky. I adjusted the temperature of the directional light to add the overall blue values to the scene. I also increased the volumetric scattering intensity to allow the light to make the fog a bit more prominent around the areas where there is light.


There are lots of different looks that fog can give your scene, however in most scenarios it is important not to overdo it.

Example Fog Settings

Volumetric Fog

One nice way you can get more realistic fog is to enable volumetric fog. This will allow the colour and intensity of your lights to pass through and affect the fog, producing a much more realistic and varied result. For a portfolio piece this could look really nice, for games it's a matter of whether you can afford to use it within your budget. However, with how easy it is to enable in Unreal it is worth enabling and then trying to recreate the result in a cheaper way if you can't afford to use it.

Here is an extreme example of the difference in results you can get from using fog with or without the volumetric option enabled:

Volumetric Fog

8. Polish/Artistic pass.

Does it need to be 100% realistic?

No, the most important thing is to make sure that the story and mood/atmosphere is represented within the lighting. Making sure that the image is more visually pleasing will often require you to break the rules and not always stay true to how something is in real life. As long as the viewer can understand where the light is coming from and it makes sense then it’s fine. If it can look better by breaking the rules, do it. Think of it as setting up a shot for a film, they often use artificial or controlled lighting because you can really control the end result and get the story or mood of the scene across.

Fake it to make it

This could be from using colour grading in the post process, to adding extra lights into the scene to create fake bounces. I would recommend this being the very final part of the work, ensuring that you don't need to add huge amounts of colour grading or an un-manageable number of lights to the scene. Aim to get the best results using the minimum lights and colour grading possible first, as it will make it easier to manage later. For this project I stuck to the basics, using the least amount of lights and post-process I could.

9. Final results

Thank you for reading the article, I hope you've learned something from it. If you have any questions at all feel free to message me on Twitter @JoeTaylorArt. If you have a go yourself with the project or anything you’ve learned here, feel free to share the results with me!