Finding the Light, Part 5: 3 Ways to Use Window Light

One of the most important factors in a good photo is lighting. You can have the perfect settings, great exposure, and even knockout composition, but if you don’t have good lighting, your image will fall flat. In this new series, Finding the Light, we are going to be talking about how to find and work with all types of lighting. Our goal is to help you understand how to work with all kinds of light, and how to use the light you have to create powerful, standout images. This is Part 5 of our series, and today we are talking about how to use window light. If you’re just joining us, you can follow along in our series here:

Part 1: Finding the Light
Part 2: Using Shadows for Dramatic Portraits
Part 3: Shooting the Golden Hour
Part 4: How to Shoot in Harsh Light
Part 5: 3 Ways to Use Window Light
Part 6: Creative Light Sources

Composition 4
ISO 400, f/1.8, 1/200

Windows are an awesome light source, and chances are, you have plenty of them around you! I love experimenting with the use of windows to creatively light my subjects, and since I learned photography within the walls of my own house, I learned very quickly to use windows to help me capture great photos. Because let’s face it, it can be nearly impossible to take photos in our ideal lighting situations day in and day out. Learning to work with what was around me was crucial to my growth. Windows to the rescue! What I love most about using windows is their versatility. You can get great photos from nearly any direction when using windows! These are the main three ways I use them.

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Front Light

Front lighting is where your subject is facing the window and the light is coming in directly onto their face. You may be between the window and the subject, or you could be off to the side to capture the photo. The image above is an example of front lighting, as is this image below. In these photos, my subjects are lit by a window in front of them (out of the frame, in both of these examples), while I am photographing them from the side. Front lighting produces even lighting across your subject’s face. The further your subject moves from the window, the softer the light will be. You can experiment with distance to and from the window to achieve different looks with front lighting and shadows.

IMG_4829
ISO 2000, f/2.0, 1/160

Side Light

Side lighting occurs when your light source is to the side of your subject, instead of directly in front of them. In this image, the window was out of the frame, about 12 feet to camera right. Side lighting tends to produce more shadows across the subject, with can add dimension and interest to a photo. As with front lighting, the distance between the subject and the window (or any light source) will impact the outcome of the light on your subject. The farther the subject is from the light, the less harsh the shadows will be. Keep this in mind when using shadows to your advantage, so that you can light your subject in a way that is dimensional, and still appealing.

ISO 800, f/2.8, 1/160
ISO 800, f/2.8, 1/160

Back Light

The final way I use window light is back lighting. This is where the light source is behind your subject and you are shooting facing the light.  In the image below, my subject was very close to the window, which created a completely lit background around him. And again, how you position your subject will give varying results in the final look of your images. As with any type of back lighting situation, I use spot metering and expose for my subject’s skin. You can also meter for the light and create a silhouette!

ISO 1000, f/2.8, 1/200
ISO 1000, f/2.8, 1/200

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Walk around your house or your studio, and watch how the light falls into the rooms through the windows. Notice how it changes at different times of day. Windows are such a convenient light source, and they can provide such a vast amount of variation in your photos just by changing your subjects position and distance to them. Don’t hesitate to use them to your advantage and start taking photos you may not have thought of before! And if you’re new to shooting indoors, make sure to check out my easy tips for awesome indoor photos!

Before you go, be sure to check out the rest of our Finding the Light Series here:

Part 1: Finding the Light
Part 2: Using Shadows for Dramatic Portraits
Part 3: Shooting the Golden Hour
Part 4: How to Shoot in Harsh Light
Part 5: 3 Ways to Use Window Light
Part 6: Creative Light Sources