It provides beautiful soft light.
It’s free, and easily available.
I use it all the time, whether I’m taking pictures of my kids, or at weddings.
Like any light source, you can be creative, and even use the harsh direct sunlight shining through the windows.
However, my objective for this post is to help you find soft window light, and use it for portraits.
Here are some window light photography tips!
FIND SOFT LIGHT
As I’ve said in a previous post, train your eyes to see and understand light.
In this case, soft window light.
If you are indoors, walk around. Look at the light coming through all the windows.
The soft light we’re looking for is the non-direct sunlight that is not shining directly through the window.
Windows facing east, west or south will let through harsh direct light at different times of the day, so look for times when the sunlight isn’t directly shining through. If you have windows facing the north, those will provide soft light throughout the day.
POSITIONING YOUR SUBJECT
Now that you found your spot, bring in our subject. Your spouse, friend, dog, cat, kid, stuffed animal, balloon, chair etc…haha, trust me. I tried whatever I can find:)
For portraits, I like to place my subject a few feet away from the window, either facing the window light or at about a 45 degree angle as a starting point.
Staying a few feet away from the window provides soft light on the subject’s face. The shadows on the face will look softer and more gradual.
Before you even a snap a picture, look at your subject’s face to see what kind of shadow the light is producing.
If your subject is facing the window straight on, the whole face is evenly lit.
If your subject is turned side ways, 90 degrees from the window then one side of the face is bright, and the other side of the face is in complete shadow. That gives more of a dramatic look and feel, because of the high contrast between the bright side of the face and the dark side of the face.
If your subject is turned about 45 degrees toward the window, it’ll provide a good balance between the bright side and the dark side of the face for a flattering portrait.
The height of the window also matters. Your subject’s face is the main focus. So make sure light is coming above the center of the eyes, and that no window blinds or shades are blocking the light.
You also want a clean background behind the subject. A cluttered background can make a photo look like an ordinary snapshot, but a simple background can improve the look of your photo.
For example, take a look at the following photos. First one is a snap shot of my silly son in toy bin. Ordinary, but I still want that photo as a dad.
Then I moved in closer to eliminate the bin, mirror, wall and sofa from the photo. Same spot, same lighting, different result.
-Make sure to turn off indoor lights. All lights including window light, tungsten light, florescent light, flash light and etc., have different color temperatures. A camera is not able to register different color temperatures like humans. Mixing window light with any indoor lights will confuse your camera, and the color of your picture won’t turn out accurately. Depending on the light bulbs, you might see yellowish, orange-ish tones mixed with blue.
-For portraits, make sure to focus on your subject’s eyes. If at an angle, focus on the eye that is closest to the camera.
-If you’ve been using AUTO mode on your camera, this will be a good time to go beyond AUTO mode, since the lighting condition will stay consistent.
Keep your subject in the same spot, and move around. Take pictures from different angles. As seen in the diagram.
Also, experiment by moving your subject closer to the window, or even right up on the window.
-Use indirect sunlight coming through the window.
-Position your subject a few feet away from the window for softer light.
-Placing your subject at a 45 degree angle facing the window is a good starting point for portraits.
-Move to different spots for different angles.