Lesson 17 of 68
In Progress

Use window light like a pro

If you’re like most SPS students, you’ll fall in love with shooting outdoors. That’s where all the light is!

But sometimes, the outdoors are too hot, too cold, too wet, or too, well, outdoorsy, to go out for some shots. When it’s time to bring the shoot inside, utilizing natural light from windows is the next best thing to natural light outdoors.

If you’re like most, you quickly become frustrated. Your indoor window light pics are nowhere near the quality of the stuff you take outside.

Not to worry. It’s possible to get phenom shots from window light. In fact, many notable pros actually build natural light studios, preferring the look of window light to artificial light and/or flash. How do they do it?

We’ll look at exactly how they do it, followed by how we can modify what they’re doing to get a similar result without spending a fortune. Actually, without spending any money at all (beyond what you already have to get a nice camera and perhaps one decent lens).

First up, the video:

Window Light Tips:

1) Maximize Light

The pros who build daylight studios put in HUGE windows, usually facing north so that direct sunlight never enters the shooting area. They put in the huge windows so they can have soft light, of course, in addition to more quantity. That’s because theses spaces will often have the shooting floor some 10 feet away from the windows, so they need a lot of light.

If we place our subject even 6 feet away from a normal set of windows, our results might be less than pleasing:

Our modification:

  1. Move the subject closer to the window. Perhaps even inches away. Now the light source is many times bigger than if you were 8 feet away. The result: softer and more wrap around to the shadow side.
  2. You probably want to shoot wide open in order to really maximize the light. If you have a prime lens that goes below f2, be careful. You might want to keep it at f2 or above in order to get enough depth of field. And if you’re still not getting enough light, you may need to dial up the ISO quite a bit. Just remember, our eyes adjust to darker ambient levels much better than the typical camera. So what sees like plenty of light to your eyes might be pushing the limits of your camera.

Here’s another pic after our first modification:

2) Add Fill Light

The pros who build fancy daylight studios with huge windows still find that they need to fill in the shadow side of the face. They do this with really good reflectors, and often times very big reflectors.

Our Modification:

  1. Seriously, you can use a piece of white poster board. Or a white bed sheet. Or even a white pillow. If you get it close enough, you’ll fill in those shadows. You could of course also pick up an actual portable, handheld reflector.
  2. Place your kid towards the back edge of the window. The more light that’s in front of him/her, the more it will wrap around to the shadow side.

3. You could even try and angle your kid more towards the window, to where it’s more of a front/side light combo:

That’s really it! Basically, get close to the window, and reflect in fill light. You’ll be a pro!

Here’s my shot following just those two tips (and no, Kerbi STILL wasn’t smiling):

Btw, here’s a shot with window camera left and reflection using a white shirt. Yep, a white shirt. See, you don’t have to spend any money at all if you don’t want too. This is also the closest we get to a smile. Stinker.

The other thing to definitely try is to just face your kid straight into the window and you shoot from the window. Try not to cover up all the light coming in though! This of course will give you even, smooth, front light and is likely to be your best eyeshot (as the eyes will reflect all that light back towards the camera).

Alright folks, thanks for being here! If you have questions, insights, discoveries…please head to the Facebook Group.