Equipping a studio with lights, reflectors, soft boxes, flash synch devices, etc. is expensive. But for the sake of consistent lighting and for the fact the same results can be obtained any time of day, it’s worth it. To create consistent light, the avid studio photographer has to commit to the purchases. The operative word in the previous sentence is “avid.” If studio photography is your livelihood, the items are essential. What if you occasionally want to create the same soft look studio photographers obtain but not shell out big bucks or invest the time learning how to use the gear? Window light to the rescue.
Window light has many advantages but there are limitations. Let me get the negative out of the way: you can’t make photos at night, the intensity and quality of the light is dictated by the amount or lack of clouds and a large window is often needed. With the above in mind you’ll want to photograph during daylight hours, wait for a sunny or cloudy day to provide the effect you desire, diffuse direct sun to soften it and use the biggest window you have.
Ideally, you have at least one window that receives direct sun. The light from direct sun is harsh. If you need soft light, use a window that receives indirect light or wait until the sun moves. If you must use a window that receives sun but you need soft light, place white translucent material over the window. It will mimic the same light a studio softbox provides. Use a lamp to add fill light and warmth to certain parts of the image. Based on the type of bulb you use you’ll get different color temperatures, so be aware of the effect. Creative effects can be imparted using venetian blinds with direct sun. (See the image of the pennies and stock market page.)
Studio lights are costly, but window light is free and easy to use. It’s easy to predict how the photos will be rendered. Just study the effect it creates around your subject. Studio photographers need to use high-powered modeling lights achieve this. If the light that falls on the subject doesn’t create the look you desire, modify it. Use a reflector to bounce light into shadows. Gold reflectors provide warmth, white ones add soft light and silver ones create a specular effect. The size of the reflector impacts the effect. I’ve used everything from a small mirror to a 4x6-foot white panel. Experiment with the placement and size of your reflectors and watch how the light changes. What you see with your eye will be what you get on your sensor.
Many photographers associate window light with portraiture, and many great portraits are made using window light. Don’t let this restrict you to photographing only people. Flowers, food and still life subjects are great to photograph using soft window light. To learn how to use it, set up a subject so it receives both direct light and indirect illumination throughout the course of the day. Watch how the light impacts the subject. Create photos with both sources and study the results. Compare them to what you remember when you made the images. As you progress, you’ll be able to predict what the final result will look like as soon as you set up your subject.
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