Lighting Tricks: Windows

Lighting can get very expensive and complicated, but that doesn’t mean that it has to be. Here we’ll look at how we can apply studio sensibilities on natural light in order to get cheap, quality light.

Frosted Glass as a background:

As is shown in the above image, frosted glass windows may be used to create a simple back lit backdrop with a similar effect to blurring out the background with a large aperture. For the above image I used an aperture of f/4 for sharpness, however on slower lenses practically any f stop works as the background is already blurred. (Although every lens is different I use the rule of thumb that a lens is at it’s best two stops below it’s maximum aperture), the only risk with smaller apertures is that you run the risk of revealing too much of the glass’s texture, which is still up to artistic preference.

What’s important to consider when using this technique is that enough light is reflecting onto the subject, you’ll usually want to spot meter the subject however if the background is becoming too overexposed you can use a reflector or fill flash to bring the subject’s brightness closer to the background. I still prefer having the background a fair bit brighter than the subject.

Using a Window as a Soft Light Source:

As can be seen in the work of a variety of natural light and wedding photographers, windows and door frames can be used similarly to softboxes, obviously you can’t bring the window closer to your subject but you can bring your subject closer to the window to soften the light and brighten them or compensate your shutter or ISO to darken the background. In the photo above the window gives a nice soft light along with a lovely catchlight (I find catchlights are more complex and pleasant with natural light), I only wish I’d turned him towards the light more so his left eye wasn’t so much more dull than his right. If you find hotspots or uneven light you may also want to place a piece of diffusion cloth (Or White Bedsheet) over the window to further diffuse it.

Further Reading: 

The diffusion cloth over a window technique appears in some of Peter Hurley‘s earlier work.

Look to natural light photographers for use of windows as light sources. In many cases the  window may even appear in the shot such in these shots by Sarah Ann Loreth (Who we have an interview with soon), the former using the window as the key light whilst the latter acts as backlight to define the subject.

When using frosted glass as a backdrop, pay attention to the glass itself. In the title shot for this article towards the top of the frame there is a sort of grid from the fly screen coating which is common in windows here in Australia, you may also want to watch out for  dents and cracks which could give away the window pane.


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