Window lighting can be absolutely beautiful for many types of photo shoots. Food photographers love it and portrait photographers highly value the way that it renders an image. However, window lighting isn’t always ideal. It can be quirky, can only work to the way you want it to at certain hours, and has lots of factors that can affect it.
Here’s how you can make the most of window lighting.
Use the Natural Shape of the Windows
Windows in general are very rectangular, but can come in many shapes and sizes. Quite obviously, this also means that the window will provide different types of light depending on how strong the sun is, cloud coverage, etc. Large windows can usually give you really soft light depending on the time of day, and small windows can usually give you a nice sliver of light that can give its own unique look.
Before you start to shoot, look at how the light looks. Keep in mind that human eyes are much more sensitive than the lens and sensor of your camera.
Just because you have window lighting, doesn’t mean that you can’t use artificial light to get a great look. One of our favorite, but toughest looks to achieve is to backlight our subject with light while front lighting them with an artificial strobe. This means, however, that you need to set up a different type of lighting scenario. Your strobe will be the key light while your window will be the backlight.
You’ll need to set your aperture for the strobe, your shutter speed for the window light and your ISO to be set overall of the sensitivity. This could give you some really weird exposures though that you wouldn’t normally think of, but will work.
Of any method on this list, this is the most complicated, and we only recommend it to the most ambitious of photographers given that it even gives us trouble. We really recommend the use of a hand-held light meter.
Make it Look Natural
What makes window lighting so beautiful is just how natural it looks. Yes, window light is natural light, but in this case what we’re talking about is the natural human perspective. Your images can have a very homely or familiar look to them with window lighting that somehow or another appeals to the senses and memory to elicit feelings of nostalgia.
The best food photographers like to try to make their lighting look natural because of the way that it makes food look like you’re right there in the moment.
Window Blinds and Curtains
To diffuse the intense window light in the middle of the day, a great technique is to use curtains or window blinds. Window blinds and shutters let you literally dial in how much light affects your scene–and that’s much easier to deal with than curtains.
Of course, you can always raise your ISO levels, but the idea of going up above ISO 400 is a strange idea to many photographers. In general, we’d say don’t go above ISO 1200 or 1600. In that case, just amplify the natural light with a strobe.
Usually the best time to use window lighting is during the early morning after sunrise or before the sun is going down. It can be tough otherwise to work with it, and we don’t always recommend it.
Mind the Contrast
Contrast can be used very creatively with window lighting. There can be low contrast, which will usually give you a perfectly exposed image, but that can be boring. Silhouetting or blowing out much of the detail through the highlights can be a bit more fun creatively. Silhouetting can be done at any time of the day or night and window lighting can be quirky enough to give you a really beautiful effect that while isn’t natural, still looks great as long as you own up to it.