Light things nat­u­rally

Rod Law­ton re­veals six ways to use light from a win­dow…

NPhoto - - Contents -

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.

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