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Making the Most of Window Lighting for Your Photography

by G Servo on 01/12/2012

I do not know what it is like for other photographers but natural light from windows is very appealing. Photographically, it can be your best friend. This type of light can be used to minimize your mobile kit, especially when it comes to food photography. Natural light from a window can also give still life and product shots an interesting look. If you are photo walking and want to get some quick food and coffee shots, a window can be a great tool that will, mostly, be there for you when you need it.

Recommended Gear

When shooting with widow light, I do recommend using prime lenses, anything  2.8 or bigger. Primes are great in low light because you can make the most available light wide open. This makes for beautiful bokeh.

 Timing and placement

Natural light is a wonderful thing when it is there, and timing is, obviously, essential. A big window will give great light. The type of light you get can depend on where your window is located. If you want morning light, use a window that east or north east, and for evening light use west southwest. For all other light, a well-exposed window is fine.

Things to look out for

If you are shooting at a window, inspect your environment thoroughly. If there are curtains, or window treatments that are interestingly colored, you can use that hue to your advantage if you like. This can be an artistic win, but it can get in the way.

Mind your white balance and avoiding mixed colors

On a sunny day you can usually get away with setting the white balance on your camera to day light, but always keep a white balance tool like an ExpoImaging ExpoDisc or if you are out and in a pinch, a white coffee cup lid will do. You always want to make sure your producing the most accurate colors. The first thing I do when shooting at a window is turn off all internal lights. The only light I want is from the window. They can be used to emphasize form or increase contrast in the photo. If there are brightly colored window treatments, however, they can cast color with their shadows.

Controlling the light

The amount of light coming through the window can be tamed. Let me first recommend reading our Dark Art of Metering. This will give you a lesson in controlling the intensity of the light coming off your subject. If you have neutral window treatment, start there. There is, however, a better way: control your exposure and composition.  If you are shooting with a tripod, as I sometimes do when shooting  at a window, adjust your shutter speed until the exposure suits the look you are trying to achieve. If you are shooting handheld then also adjust your ISO to keep you shutter speed fast enough to maintain sharpness.  If you are worried about harness from the window light, move your subject a little farther away from the window.

Background

Despite using the window as your light source, this doesn’t mean it has to be in the image. If it adds something aesthetically, use it. If you want to control the background, consider using a small paper or cloth as a backdrop and try different angles.

In the end

While no two rooms are the same, if they have windows you have natural light soft boxes available for use. Their only cost is your time.  If you have never used windows as light sources before, give it a try. You might like the results.

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