How to Use Window Light for Portraits

Window light can be some of the prettiest light when shooting portraiture. It provides a nice, soft, natural light around the model, if used correctly. Photographer Daniel Norton explains that not all window light is the same. If you’re going for softness, you won’t get it on clear, sunny days with the sun shining directly into the window. Overcast days are best, but there are a few tricks if you don’t have the cloudy conditions:

When talking¬†about window light, people usually think directional, but soft light coming in through a window. But, if your subject is south-facing and direct sunlight is pouring in, that’s not going to give you the nice, soft light you want. You need a day that’s overcast or to use a silk over the window to soften the light.

In this tutorial, Norton places his model beside and in front of two windows. The window behind her has a white curtain pulled over it so it allows natural light but so you can’t see outside. He begins with the side window shade open to allow the natural light in and since it’s overcast, the lighting falls across the model’s face nicely.

soft portraiture lighting

If it’s a bright, sunny day, you might want to consider more of a profile-type of shot, with the model facing the window to get wrap around light and eliminate harsh shadows.

natural lighting techniques

You can also have the model back up a little so she’s not getting hit with direct window light. This will lower her exposure a little, but the light will wrap around her better. By moving just slightly out of the direct light, the model doesn’t need to turn so much toward the window. You can have a 3/4 turn profile shot.

portraiture lighting photo

If you do want to fill in the light more and give an even light across the model’s face, you can always use a reflector or even just a piece of white foam board. Have your helper bring the reflector in as close as they can to the model’s face, then back it up a little out of the shot; that way you will get the most light possible out of it.

If you want to make the shadows more dense, use the black side of the foam board in the same way.

adding shadows portrait

On very sunny days, you can simply pull a white curtain over the window or use a screen to cut out the harshness. These are just a few tips to capture beautiful, soft natural light for portraits.

For this photo shoot, Norton uses a Fuji X-Pro 1 with a Voigtlander Heliar 75mm f/1.8L lens.

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