Unless you live in a subtropical climate, you probably are a bit chilly right now reading this article in mid-January. If you’re a professional photographer, you’re probably cringing at the thought of having to go outside for your next shoot.
Well, I’d like to give you a little tutorial on utilizing window light indoors today! Depending on your climate, you might have the advantage of bare trees (no leaves to block the windows, yay) and possibly a blanket of snow (read: reflector) outside the window as well.
If you are a studio photographer, you’ll simply think of your window as your main light with a rectangular-shaped softbox attached. You’ll need to move your subject, rather than your light, to get the type of lighting you’re after.
If you’re an outdoor photographer transitioning indoors for the winter, then you’ll want to be mindful that window light is, by nature, directional, and that you must change the position of your subject to see the change in light patterns. The facing direction of the window has a great deal to do with the quality of light, also. I prefer North- and South-facing windows, when available, to allow the softest, most even light on your subjects.
Okay, let’s get started!
This Direction: In the above image, I positioned Mom and baby in a chair about 3 feet from a double window, and had Mom hold her little one very naturally, to soothe her to sleep. I had her turn until the light fell just the way I wanted it to show the lines and texture of her arms, fingers, and the baby’s skin as well. Shooting at a shallow dof (f/2.5, 1/125, ISO 1250 with a D700 and 50mm 1.4 lens), I let Mom’s face to fall into the shadows, yet the light still fall across her hair, which gave this photo even more dimension.
Change Your Mood: For this image, it was a cold day and we were about 3 feet from a triple sliding glass door. Beyond that door was a covered lanai, and plenty of mature trees hiding the light from us that cloudy morning. Yep, it was dark inside. My solution was to crank my ISO and embrace a moody black and white (which happens to be my favorite style anyway!). They were sitting on a trunk, snuggled under a blanket, and looked just beautiful as could be. I again grabbed my 50mm 1.4 lens, and used f/2.2, 1/250, and (ahem) ISO 5000 on my D700.
Get In Front: This sweet baby boy was snuggled up warmly about 2-1/2 feet from a sliding glass door. The walls of the room were painted a dark color, and the furniture was dark as well (no built-in reflectors this time), so I gently turned his cheek to the side, so that the light would spill directly onto his face (front light/flat light), and not be quite as moody or shadowy. (This situation, although with more distance between the door and your subjects, would work well for a family too.) I pressed back against the glass door, and shot this image with the 60mm 2.8 macro on my D700, set at f/3.5, 1/200 and ISO 2500.
Fall Back: For this image, I chose dramatic backlight to highlight her arms and keep her skirt a bit shadowed. The blinds were permanent, so we simply opened the slats to allow in as much light as we could. My settings were f/3.5, 1/320 and ISO 400, using the 50mm 1.4 lens on my D700. I don’t think the image would have had the same impact on me though, if the room were light-filled instead. I just loved the shadowy blur of her skirt!
I also love to utilize backlight for my family work as well:
Hopefully these tips can help to keep you warm on your next session. Now, go have yourself a cup of hot cocoa!
In what ways do you maximize light in the winter? Do you have any more window-light tips to share with our readers? We’d love to have you add them in the comments below!
Co-editor, Stacey Woods is an on-location, natural light lifestyle photographer for the Tampa Bay, FL area. Her favorite subjects are expecting mamas, the tiniest of babies, and children of all ages. Her online photo journal can be found at Stacey Woods Photography. Stacey’s own husband and children (a 6-year-old son and 2-year-old daughter) are her greatest source of inspiration… and laughter!