Window Light

Window light is one of the photographers best friends when it comes to indoor natural lighting.

And working with window lighting it is very much the same as working with open shade. Generally, unless it's for special effect like creating a silhouette, the light coming through the window should not be "direct." You want the light to be diffused and "soft" just like shade. To get this quality you want a window that is letting in light, but where the sun is not shining directly through the window. Typically a northern exposure window, or a window with diffusion being provided by something like curtains. Be aware that if the light is being diffused by some sort of material the light will take on the color of the material.

The main difference between working with open shade and window light is that with window light you now have two light sources and a "lighting ratio" to manage. The two light sources are the ambient light level within the room and the light level of the window light. You also get to control the "direction" and "quality" of the window light. The direction of the lighting is controlled by the positioning of your subject.  The quality of the lighting is controlled by the distance from the window light.

If the window light is further away and less diffused it will become "harder." If the window light is from behind you it becomes the "main light" (the primary light source falling on your subject).

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Julia by Vadimyer


If the window light is behind your subject then it becomes a rim light with the interior ambient light as your main light. If the subject is close to the window it will be "softer" and wrap around the subject further.

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Myla by Steve Corey


If the lighting ratio is too strong then you will need to add fill light to the shadows. You then have a "3 light setup." The fill light can be added with the use of on camera flash (with power turned down), even the pop-up flash on the camera. Fill light can be added with off camera flash, or with a bounce panel. A bounce panel can be any reflective surface.

I highly recommend every photographer have some type of bounce panel in their kit. It can be anything from a piece of poster-board, a white foam-core panel, or one of those sunlight reflectors for car windshields.

For the price, I think these 5-in-1 panels are indispensable. A reflector stand is also useful if you don't have someone to hold it for you.

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