In Love With Window Light Photography

By Lane Erickson

For centuries, all varieties of artists, used window light in the creation of their art.  Ancient and modern art studios both harness and utilize, soft northern light.  Photographers are no different. After many years of shooting I can tell you that I love window light photography.

The essence of photography is light. Without it no photograph can be created. Window light is usually a soft, directional light that is easy to control. But it doesn’t have to be. Window light can also allow rays of light in which can be much harsher and more direct. There really is no one perfect kind of window light.

Unlike having to study and learn how to use a strobe or a small flash, window light is easy because it is “you see what you get.”   In other words, you can see exactly what the window like looks like and can alter and change it by moving your subject closer to or farther away from the window or by changing the direction your subject is facing. When you do this you can immediately see the difference in the light and can decide if you like it or not.

Most people think of window light as a source of light for portraits. However, window  light can be used for any number of photographic subjects including portraits.  This photograph of my daughter was taken by standing on a small stool and looking down on her and she was pretending to play a violin that she had made out of cardboard paper. The light source was three large windows in my living room to my left (my daughter’s right).   I simply turned her body until I got the light exactly how I wanted it to be. Then I created this portrait.

My daughter playing her homemade violin.  Window light portrait.  Fuji X-Pro1, Fuji 18-55mm F/2.8 lens @ 37mm; 1/60s @ f/3.6.

Portraits are not the only type of photographs that can be done with window light.  I often use window light when creating stock or commercial photographs too.  For instance, I was creating a photograph having to do with money and decided to line up a number of Eisenhower dollars directly underneath a  western facing window with blinds. By changing the up or down direction of the horizontal blinds I was able to control the light like using a giant soft box. I could see the changing light on the reflective silver coins. Once I had the light how I wanted it, I simply began shooting away.

Coins illuminated by window light.  Nikon D5100, Tamron 90mm macro lens; 1/8s @ f/22. 

The weather can also have an impact on window light photography. For example, this image was taken of my daughter during a serious rain storm. The rainwater splattered on the window creating a unique texture to the window.  The light was also much more subdued providing an opportunity to create a nice silhouette of my daughter with the bluish storm light coming in through the window.

My daughter looking out a window on a rainy day.  Nikon D70, Sigma 70-210mm @ 210mm; 1/250s @ f/5.6. 

So as you search to Find the Right Light for your photography, I encourage you to try using window light.  It is useful for a variety of photographic subjects.  Good luck.

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