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Window Light

Today's post comes from the book Master Lighting Guide for Wedding Photographers by Bill Hurter. It is available from Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

One of the most flattering types of lighting you can use is window lighting. It is a soft light, minimizing facial imperfections, but also highly directional, yielding good roundness and modeling in portraits.Window light is usually a fairly bright light and it is infinitely variable, changing almost by the minute. This allows for a great variety of moods in a single shooting session.

Window lighting also has several drawbacks, though. Since daylight falls off rapidly once it enters a window, it is much weaker several feet from the window than it is close to the window. Therefore, great care must be taken in determining exposure—particularly with groups of three or four people. Another problem arises from shooting in buildings not designed for photography; you will sometimes encounter distracting back-grounds and uncomfortably close shooting distances.

Direction and Time of Day.
The best quality of window light is found at midmorning or mid-afternoon. Direct sunlight is difficult to work with because of its intensity and because it often creates shadows of the individual windowpanes on the subject. It is often said that north light is the best for window-lit portraits, but this is not necessarily true. Good quality light can be had from a window facing any direction, provided the light is soft.

Subject Placement.
One of the most difficult aspects of shooting window-light portraits is positioning your subjects so that there is good facial modeling. If the subjects are placed parallel to the window, you will get a form of split lighting that can be harsh and may not be right for certain faces. It is best to position your subjects away from the window slightly so that they can look back toward it. In this position, the lighting will highlight more areas of the faces. The closer to the window your subjects are, the harsher the lighting will be. The light becomes more diffused the farther you move from the window, as the light mixes with other reflected light in the room. Usually, it is best to position the subjects about three to five feet from a large window. This not only gives better lighting, but also gives you a little room to produce a flattering pose and pleasing composition.

Jeff and Julia Woods positioned their bride far enough from a large window to create a full-length portrait. The farther you move your subject from the window, the more light falls off and the more contrast there is. Here, the lighting was still soft and forgiving enough to require no fill.

Window light can fall off rapidly in intensity. One way to correct for this is to group the faces closely so that there is little difference in exposure between the face closest to the window and the one farthest away. Within moderate limits, one can correct for such falloff with minor dodging and burning-in in Photoshop

*Excerpted from the book "Master Lighting Guide for Wedding Photographers" by Bill Hurter



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