Creating Beautiful Portraits Using Natural Window Light


Using window light to shoot portraits


It’s not difficult to create a lovely portrait that your friend will love. If you have no flash and no studio lights, then why not consider window light?

The trouble is that with this is that no one uses window light properly. Many photographers position the subject in front of the window. They do not turn their subject to face the window. By turning the subject to face the window it is a great way to take advantage of some beautiful light. It’s not only beautiful but it’s ideal light for portraits. Many photographers don’t actually use the light from the window to illuminate the subjects face or eyes. Instead they photograph the subject side on or with the window light from behind. This method will not work and you will be quickly disappointed with the results.

So let’s now look at some ways to create lovely window light portraits.

First, think about the quality of the light coming through the window. Is it hard or soft? Usually the light is soft. A portrait looks fantastic when the light is soft. Blemishes are reduced, skin tone evens out and there are no harsh shadows under noses or eyes. It’s really an ideal kind of light for portraits.

Think about the temperature of the light. Changing the white balance to suit your portrait is essential if you want to create beautifully warm and fresh skin tones. It’s easy to create unsuitable colour tone through a lack of understanding about white balance and how it affects your friends skin tone. In this case do a custom white balance before you shoot.

The way to do a custom white balance is as follows: Take your light meter and place it on the persons face. Face the light meter towards the window light with the invercone extended. Now press the side button and take a reading. Make sure the light meter and the camera have the same settings. For example if the light meter tells you that F1.4 and 1/60th of a second is ideal, and your lens is unable to go to F1.4 then you may not use the setting. Move your light meters dial to the aperture you want to shoot at. It will then give you a reading you will able to set on your camera.

Now that you have the ideal exposure take a grey card and place it in front of the lens. Set your camera to the settings of the light meter. Take a photo. Set the photo of the grey card to the correct white balance on your camera. Now your white balance should be ok. It’s been set for the conditions you are shooting in.

The direction of light is very important too. It’s good to get a window that is quite long so the majority of light comes from the person’s top and side, not directly from above only. If you have too much light from above only, then shadows under the nose and the eyes may occur. To avoid this, try and find a window that is quite large. This will help disperse the light evenly.

If you find that you still have too much shadow on the opposite side to the window, then try using a reflector. A reflector can bounce the light back onto the persons face to fill in the shadows. This works very well in some situations.

If you place your subject too close to the window you may see more contrast on the persons face. If you want softer light and less shadows, move them away from the window. This will even out the light across their face, but darken the overall exposure of the image. Simply adjust this by increasing your ISO.

When shooting a portrait using window light its important to keep the emotive affects of that light clear in your mind. A soft light cast across someone’s face can often create an endearing affect. This is ideal for weddings, young people and children. If you want to create something theatrical and moody, try a different direction and quality of light. However, for windows, you will find that creating an endearing affect is easier than you think.

Consider window light as a wonderfully accessible way to shoot portraits. Always make sure you have plenty of light and use a tripod. Window light is soft and subdued and ideal for portraits. Face your portrait towards the light, not away from it. The direction of light needs to light the persons face to help create a gentle and soft look and feel. If you use window light in this way, you will be better equip to handle many lighting situations.

About the Author

Amy is an multi-award winning photographer from Australia. She teaches enthusiast photographers how to take beautiful, professional photos in easy, plain English. She has a monthly photography emagazine and ebooks to help you create stunning images every time.

Comments (3)

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  1. Roger says:

    Here are five ways to use window light for creating portraits. For all of these, it’s best to try to turn off any lights you have in the room and just use the light you are getting from the window, otherwise you are going to find white balance tricky. Also, try to make sure that the sun is not shining directly in your window, as you will have harsh light instead of nice soft flattering light (although you can try to use this if you want to!) – generally north and south facing windows are best, but you will get good light from windows facing other directions but it might not be all day.

  2. Vivian says:

    Look For Indoor Locations Where The Best Light Is Found. While it seems obvious, many photographs are taken in locations because that’s where the photographer or their subject decides to make it. This may work great for an interesting looking location but for portraits made where the subject is the person–not the location–place them where the light is best. If a background is unattractive, work with wide-open apertures to soften and blur the background and focus attention on your subject. In my home, my favorite place to shoot portraits is, believe it or not, the kitchen. The walls are painted a soft white color and there’s a bay window providing north light that can be modulated by opening and closing mini-blinds in each window. You may have a similar location in your home, and never thought a kitchen or other unlikely location would be a great place to make a portrait or two. Think about it now.

  3. photographer says:

    I really like the pictures! As a professional photographer
    I understand it is usually difficult to find the right shots but
    they’re great. I prefer a number of Lightroom presets
    to keep some uniformity throughout my own.

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