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Using Window Light For Portraits

Did you know you can create professional looking portraits without expensive studio equipment? It’s true, there are many natural light photographers out there who choose to use natural light for its beautiful appearance. There are some critics out there who will criticize anyone who calls themselves a natural light photographer, saying that they simply don’t know how to use studio lighting, but that is an unfair assumption. Recreating the look of natural light with artificial lighting is extremely expensive and it is not portable! I love using window light because I’ve never met a client who didn’t have a window. All I have to bring to their home is my camera (and perhaps a backdrop and a reflector).

Think of a window as a giant softbox. When the sun is not shining directly through the window, soft “wrapping” light is emitted, and if you properly position your subject to the window, you can get beautiful results. The key is to be somewhat close to the window and at a 45 degree angle, but it does depend on how bright it is outside and what direction the window is facing. To take out all the guess work, move your subject around before you set up any backdrops or take any pictures. Here is what you are looking for: soft directional light on the face, with slight shadowing on one side of the face, and large catch lights in the irises (not the pupils). The closer you are to your light source, the softer the light will be. Be aware of natural reflectors in the room, such as a white wall nearby, to help reflect light back onto the shadowed side of your subject. Shadows add dimension to a portrait, but if they are too dark, you lose too much detail. In some cases, dark shadows are exactly what you want, particularly if you are trying to create a dramatic look in your photo.

To practice, I recommend taking a mirror and looking at the light on your own face while you walk around your home. Move around your windows and watch how the light changes. Watch how it affects your features and what mood it creates. Pretty soon you will learn to see the light quickly, and it will dramatically impact the quality of your pictures. Good luck!

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About Kim Neyer

Kim is a freelance writer, photographer and stay at home mom to her one-year-old son, Micah. She has been married to her husband, Eric, since 2006. She is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin - Whitewater, with a degree in English Writing. In her free time she likes to blog, edit photos, crochet, read, watch movies with her family, and play guitar.