Light things naturally
Rod Lawton reveals six ways to use light from a window…
Techniques for using light from a window to illuminate your portrait shots
The principles are much the same as those for studio photography – it’s all about the direction of the light and its quality, or how soft it is
You don’t need a photo studio to take great portrait pictures. You can get beautiful portrait shots using natural light from a window.
The light levels from a window are lower, so you may need to bump up the ISO or use a tripod. The principles are much the same as those for studio photography – it’s all about the direction of the light and its ‘quality’, or how soft it is as it falls on your subject’s face.
We set ourselves a challenge. Could we find six ways to shoot a portrait of our model, Jess, using nothing more than windows?
STE P BY STEP No pane, no gain!
Find a suitable window and you can do all this…
01 Window frames
If you’ve got a big, spectacular window like this one, use it! There’s enough room for Jess to stand on the sill and hold the shutters either side. We’ve moved a long way back and used a longer focal length to keep the camera level and prevent converging verticals.
02 Bold backlighting
You can move your subject to change the direction of the light. We’ve placed Jess with her back to the window and used our reflector to throw light back into her face. Use spot metering mode to set the exposure for your subject’s face.
03 Delicate profile
You don’t have to shoot your subjects face-on. For this over-the-shoulder profile, we asked Jess to turn her back to the camera and look to the side, and we found an angle where the light from the window was just glancing off the side of her face and her shoulder.
04 Softly does it
If you have direct sunlight coming through the window you’ll get harsh shadows, but a sunless window acts like a giant studio softbox. You can place your subject right by the window to get soft but directional light that’s perfect for portraits.
05 Raindrops on the glass
You don’t have to be on the same side of the window as your subject. This photograph was shot from outside looking in. It wasn’t raining (for once!), so we filled a cup with water and flicked some drops randomly on the window pane. A cool-toned retro effect applied on the computer later on gave the final image a wistful, reflective mood.
06 Distance adds drama
If you move your subject further from the window, your light source effectively gets smaller, producing a more tightly-focussed light. Try this without a reflector for more contrast (above left), or with a reflector for a more balanced look (above right). Reflectors never overpower the main light. We used a Profoto reflector, which is reflective on one side and black on the other. You can use the black side as a light ‘shutter’ to focus the light and increase the contrast.