Window light makes great portraits. As a photographer you can use it to light your subjects and make them look wonderful. But for most people, this kind of portrait lighting can be a bit tricky.
Here are some tips to help you make portraits with window light.
Best Tips for Window Light Portrait Photography
Find an interesting backdrop
A lot of people think that using window light for portraits means finding a nice spot of shade. But in many cases, it’s better to use bright sunlight. The problem is that this kind of light has a lot of glare, which can be distracting to your subject.
You need to find a spot of bright sunlight where the glare isn’t so severe. Ideally, you want to find a spot with a slight angle, which means that the sun is coming from a slightly different direction each time you shoot. This means that the light changes as you move around the subject, making each shot slightly different.
Your subject needs to stand in front of the light source, so you need a large open space in which they can stand. This means you’ll need a fairly wide space – say, a street or a park. In these situations, you’ll need to work quickly to make sure your subject gets the perfect pose. But don’t worry, it’s easy to set up.
As soon as you find a suitable spot, try to work out the best possible position for your subject. Try standing on a tripod, or placing a stool nearby. If the sun is low, you’ll probably need to use a reflector to bounce the light up and around.
Once you have the spot and the pose, you can start shooting. Remember, with bright sunlight, your background will be overexposed. You can bring down the exposure by using the ‘fill flash’ function on your camera, but you’ll need to be careful not to hit your subject, especially if they are wearing clothing with patterns or texture.
Use soft light for a flattering effect
There’s nothing wrong with using window light to light your subject, but you can get a much more flattering effect by using soft light. Soft light gives your subject a gentle glow, which highlights their features, making them appear softer, more delicate and attractive.
To create soft light, use a large, diffuse light source. This is usually a diffused light source, such as a large sheet of white paper, a white umbrella or large white reflector. It should be as close to your subject as possible and positioned to provide even lighting across the face.
To create a soft glow, you can use a fill light (also called a key light) to illuminate the subject, which should also come from a diffused light source. This light should fall on your subject from a distance, so that the shadows are quite deep and dark.
Remember, the closer the light is to your subject, the brighter the light will appear. And you’ll need to use a smaller light source if you want to make it smaller and more distant.
Be aware of the background
One thing to remember with any kind of portrait, is that the background will always be overexposed, even when using window light. So, when you’re framing your shot, you’ll need to make sure you include as much of the background as possible. This can be a little difficult if you’re working in a busy environment, where there are lots of people, traffic and so on.
It’s worth considering using a polarizing filter. This will reduce the amount of glare from your background and make it easier to work with. A polarizing filter will also let you see the background clearly.
The other thing to remember is that, even with a polarizing filter, you still need to be careful not to overexpose the background. You can either use a smaller aperture, which will increase the depth of field, or use a slower shutter speed, which will reduce the amount of blur.
Don’t forget to compose
Once you’ve got the lighting set up, it’s a good idea to check the composition of your shot. A well-composed portrait will use the space to maximum effect.
If you’re using a small light source, like a reflector, it’s important to make sure that the light falls directly onto the face, not the shadow side. You’ll want the light to fall on your subject at a 45° angle to the vertical.
If you’re using a larger light source, like a diffuser, it’s better to place the light source in a more general area. If possible, you should try to get your subject’s eyes as near the light source as possible.
Make sure you are comfortable with the idea of having a stranger in your house
Most people enjoy having their portrait taken. And most photographers enjoy working with a willing subject. If you’re thinking about taking someone’s photo, you need to be prepared for a certain amount of discomfort and awkwardness.
You may need to get the subject used to having their photo taken, which will probably involve some form of practice session. Make sure that they know what to expect and are happy to have their picture taken.
You may have to prepare the room and position the light. Most people enjoy being photographed outdoors, but some people find it hard to relax and enjoy themselves indoors. They may be happier if you photograph them outside.
Some people don’t like to have their photo taken in front of other people. You may need to work out a way to make the subject feel comfortable.
Photographing people can be very emotional, and you’ll need to be prepared for your subject to become upset and cry. You need to be able to cope with this, and remember to have a tissue on hand.
If you are using a lens with manual focus, set your aperture to f/8. For a lens with automatic aperture settings, choose an aperture between f/6 and f/11. This allows you to control the amount of light entering the camera.
The faster the shutter speed, the more dramatic the effect. Choose a shutter speed of around 1/125 second (the equivalent of a bulb setting). If you’re using flash, your shutter speed should be around 1/30 second.
Choose a background that will enhance the image and add interest. Place the subject in front of a solid, dark wall to give the appearance of a starlit sky.
If you are shooting in RAW format, you can experiment with your white balance setting, which affects the overall mood of the image.
Shoot early in the day when the sun is coming through the window and you have a clear view of the subject. The first hour of the morning is particularly effective.
Avoid overhead light.
Overshooting will make the face look like a cardboard cut-out. Instead, go for sidelighting. In portrait photography the side of the face is often lit by the light coming through the windows. This is not as harsh as direct sunlight and is the best way to photograph a person’s eyes, skin and hair.
Use a reflector.
The key to a successful portrait with window light is to create a strong reflection. A white or silver reflective surface placed behind your subject will help.
Use soft lighting.
If your subject has a white or cream background, use a long lens and shoot in close-up mode. If the background is a soft color (such as blue) use a wide angle and zoom in.
Try shooting silhouettes.
This technique creates a moody and mysterious atmosphere. To do this, you need a large window, a black wall and a bright background (like a sunny day).
Experiment with different colors.
By shooting with a specific color of light, you can get the perfect color to highlight the subject’s skin tone.
Use low and high light.
By using light from above, you can lighten or darken the skin and change the mood.
If you are shooting indoors, try shooting your subjects close to the window. This will create the illusion of looking out of a window.
Remember that you are making art, and if you enjoy the process it will make it easier to create a beautiful photo.
Ideas for Window Light Portraits