Window Light Magic
Shooting portraits does not always require expensive fl ash or advanced lighting units. Ketan Kundargi tells how you can use light streaming in from your window for making portraits which are a visual treat.
This article was originally published in March 2011.
Shooting great portraits is often considered a tedious task, especially in a studio setup with a confusing bulk of fl ashes and strobes. However, shooting indoors can be very simple. All you need to do is to make use of one of the most abundant sources of light—sunlight pouring in through your window!
Natural window light can be soft and diffused or harsh and dramatic depending on the time of day you are shooting at. When used correctly, it can alter the appearance of your subject and even transform the mood your subject conveys. Read on to find out how you can make use of this free light source.
Direction of Your Window
A great way to fi gure out the impact of window light on your portraits is to know the direction your window is facing. It can easily help you to predict the kind of lighting you are likely to receive from your window at a specifi c time of the day. If the window faces the north or south direction, you are bound to have soft lighting. A window facing the east or west will bring in beautiful warm light during sunrise and sunset respectively. But it will also cause direct lighting at other times, which might be a bit harsh and result in images with high contrast. However, you can make use of this harsh light as well and experiment with graphical portraits.
A window can serve as a huge softbox, especially during the golden hours of early morning and evenings. Simply place your subject near the window and let the light create much of the portrait’s drama. Positioning the subject so that there is plenty of shadow to one side gives your image a classic appearance. But if you need to reduce the amount of shadows, you can reflect back some light using thermocol sheets or even an external flash. Windows also add to the beauty of the image by providing a catch-light in the eyes of the main subject.
The Beauty of a Silhouette
There is no better place to shoot a silhouette in your house than against a window, with the sun behind the subject. Silhouettes make striking images and add drama to portraiture. The perfect silhouette is one which has a stark contrast between the subject and background. To make effective silhouettes, shoot a profi le of your subject. A profi le shot helps to make a strong composition and helps to outline the features of your subject. A scenic background seen through the window or the colours of the sky during dawn and dusk lend themselves to strong frames.
Patterns and Textures
Direct sunlight from window is of great use when you want to emphasise on patterns and textures on your subject. Highlighting wrinkles and other details on the skin of your subject, especially old people, can help to convey a story or emotion with ease. You can employ crisp dark shadows cast by wire grilles, curtains, blinds and other objects outside the window for artistic and unique portraits. Also, harsh light helps create images with naturally high contrast. If you need to block sunlight partially or control the areas which receive sunlight, you can use a dark coloured curtain or paper.
Mood Through Colour
Window light, in spite of being natural light, can be used effectively to get various colour tones and hues in a photograph. The colour of the walls in the room you are shooting in, largely affects the tone in your image. Warm colours (red, yellow, orange) will lend a vivid and bold look to your images while cool colours (blue, green, purple) will give the impression of a calm and soothing photograph. When sunlight hits a coloured wall, it results in soft lighting and a warm or soft tone depending on the colour of the wall. The same effect can be achieved by using different coloured curtains and backdrops.
Windows as a Supporting Element
A window which serves as a source of light can also be a part of your frame and introduce a secondary element of interest in your photograph. The subject can use the window as a support and as a prop for different positions and poses. A scenic vista in the background compliments the beauty of your subject. The window frame also serves like a perfect frame for your subject and adds to the image. You can take the window as well as the entire room into the frame as it may add to the story of your image as well as reveal more about your subject.
Sunlight coming in from the window can never be predicted accurately. Hence, be assured that often window light can surprise you and result in some great and fl attering portraits. Make sure you make the most of this abundant source of light.
Setup Your Own Window Light Studio
Make the Most of the Location: Choose a window which allows adequate light to fi ll up the room. A room with multiple windows is an added bonus as it will allow you to capture full length portraits with ease. Experiment with the distance of your subject from the window for various effects caused by sunlight.
Make Your Own Reflector: You can create your own refl ector to bounce off sunlight from the window and evenly light up the main subject. You can make use a piece of thermocol or a cardboard sheet covered with foil paper. While shooting group portraits, ensure that you use a larger refl ector to get even lighting for all your subjects.
Diffuse the Light: Direct sunlight during the morning and evening can be harsh on your subjects. At such time, tie a white cloth on the window so that the light gets diffused and you get soft lighting for best results. You can also use your curtains as a medium to diffuse light. A coloured curtain or cloth will lead to a colour cast of the same on all your images.