3 simple ways to utilize window light

by Mary Jane

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If you’ve been into photography for any time at all – I’m sure you’ve heard this little tidbit…”Weellll, just shoot in window light!” OK, sounds simple enough, but how exactly do you use window light? Where do you place your subject and where do you stand? It’s one of my favorite light sources of all time – it’s soft, it’s diffuse – but what I love most is that there are so many different ways to use it. You can create a variety of different looks depending on what you’re shooting and what you want to convey in the photo. I took some really quick shots of my littles to demonstrate what I mean.

Here are the 3 ways I use window light when photographing my kids.

1. Face subject directly towards window about 8-10 feet away

If you don’t have that much room, not a big deal – you just want to make sure that you are between the window and your subject. HOWEVER, you don’t want to be so close to your subject that you are blocking the beautiful window light. Ideally, the more space between your subject and the camera the better. And of course, the bigger the window, the more light you have to work with, and there is less chance that you will block any of the light. Bonus!

ISO 400, 1/800 @ f/1.8

This is great, soft light for a simple portrait. It contours and outlines every little sweet detail of the face. The light is diffuse and even, it produces vibrant color and is just plain awesome! Don’t you think? This is the kind of light that takes to little to no post-processing to make it look amazing.

2. Put the window behind your subject
When you put your main light source behind your subject you have to remember to ALWAYS expose for the face. Since the face won’t be receiving any directional light, it’s going to be much darker than the window behind. When you expose for the face, the window behind will blow out and create a nice high key effect. Shooting in manual is highly recommended! If you were to shoot this shot in Auto – the subjects would be completely dark and the window behind would be properly exposed.

ISO 800, 1/1250 @ f/1.8

The images that I love in this type of lighting are ones that have a lot of emotion. It’s not so much about perfect light, but about the emotion and feeling that ooze from the image. When I take these images they often end up in black and white. Because you don’t have that strong directional flow of light on your subjects face, the color is often a little muddy. But, there is just something I love about an emotional image with a bright blow-out background in a classic black and white. It just works. What do you think?

3. Put your subject right up against the window

I definitely don’t use the technique as much, but it’s one gives your image that extra depth of contrast and interest. For this technique you will find yourself shooting right up against the window looking across at your subject. Since your subject will be extremely close to the light source it creates a much more harsh light and greater amounts of contrast on the subjects face. Even though part of the face will be somewhat lost into the shadows, you still want to expose for the highlight on the face.

ISO 200, 1/2000 @ f/1.8

Because of the somewhat dramatic effect this lighting creates, it isn’t the first lighting I think of when photographing children. I might like this shot more if she was looking outside in anticipation for something and less aware of the camera.

So as you can see, there are so many different ways to utilize an amazing light source that can be found right in your own home! Try them all out and see what works best for you. 🙂


{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Bets August 21, 2013 at 10:23 pm

Gorgeous shots, MJ! Will you explain what you mean by exposing for the face when you have the window behind? How do I do that?

Mary Jane September 16, 2013 at 6:16 pm

What I mean by exposing for the face is – because the window is behind your subject, the face will be darker than the window, so adjust your expose until the light on the face is correct and don’t worry about the blown out window! 🙂

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