How to Get Optimum Window Lighting

In portrait photography, window lighting is one of the most popular types of natural lighting. Not only is this readily available, but window lighting also provides a lot of versatility. Natural light coming through the window is often soft and diffused, allowing for a portrait that looks serene and peaceful. Window lighting has served as an inspiration to a great many artists and painters.

Difference with Studio Lighting

There are many reasons why natural window light is better than replicating it with studio lighting. First, you will need a great deal of equipment to achieve a window light effect in a studio. You will need to set up soft lights, diffusers, and maybe even umbrella lights and reflectors. Second, you won’t be able to shoot your subject in a natural or candid set-up. The beauty of taking portraits with window lighting is being able to capture your subjects off guard. This results in more natural-looking images.

Setting Up for Window Lighting

You can use window lighting to create a soft portrait. Or you can use it to add depth and texture to your photograph. For instance, if your window has grills or frames that cast dramatic shadows, you can use this for more impact on your picture. Here are some pointers you can keep in mind in setting up your subject for window lighting:

  • Schedule your shoot for late afternoon. This is usually the best time of the day to place your subject near a window, because the afternoon sunlight is softer and more diffused. The sun at high noon tends to be sharp and cast harsh shadows.
  • Set up by the right window. You will have to know how light acts around your location at different times of the day and even of the year. Your perfect summertime spot might not be so great for autumn shoots.
  • Don’t be afraid to use reflectors. With window lighting alone, you might be able to achieve the perfect serene shot. If you feel that an area of your subject is too much in stark darkness, don’t be afraid to use a reflector to soften shadows. If you use a soft and diffused reflector, this will not destroy the illusion of your window lighting.
  • Expose two stops over and under. It’s advisable to take several test shots, especially if your light source is coming from a solitary window and your subject is in a darkened room, as you will be at the risk of incorrect exposure. To get the image perfect, take several pictures with varying shutter speeds.
  • Use your tripod. With window lighting, you might have to go as low on your shutter as possible. To reduce the risk of camera shakes, be sure to use your tripod as much as possible.
  • Take from different angles. The most classical use of window lighting is with light streaming in from the side of your subject’s face. Try to position your camera and subject at different angles. You might opt for full frontal window light, or ¾ illumination. Play around with how the light affects your images.