Window light Portraits for Stills and Video: A Lighting Tutorial
By Jay P. Morgan
In this video we will look at how to use window light as an effective light source to create portraits.
Window light is a natural light source that can create beautiful light for portraits in video and stills. It’s a quick light source that is controlled by the size of the window and the proximity of the subject to the window or light source. Large windows give softer light with brighter backgorunds and smaller windows give harder light with darker backgrounds. Its the same principle as soft boxes. Large boxes create soft light and small boxes create more directional light. We will look at window light as a backlight, key light, or flat frontal light. In the process we will explore how skin tone and hair color effect the way we light. Combining someone with dark hair and olive skin and someone with fair skin and red hair creates a challenge. We will discuss how to overcome that challenge. Lets look at Window light as a light source for portraits.
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Our first camera set up is a strong backlight or silhouette. We are using the light source as a background. I want the sky outside to be bright enough to give me the silhouette without becoming so bright that it starts to wrap around the talent.
The room is very white and the light is bouncing off the walls causing an overall fill light in the room. In post we could up the contrast to remove the fill light and create a stronger silhouette if desired. I like the subtle bleed on her body and chose to leave it.
By adding a fill card on camera right, we will bounce light back into Brooke’s face. I’m having my assistant hold the card up high so that the fill card gives us a Rembrandt light on her face.
If the card is placed on the ground and reflected up, it’s not very flattering on her face. Reflectors need to be placed in the same places as lights to be effective. Many times we let the floor be the resting place for the reflector, and we end up with a Horror light coming form underneath.
Shooting Brooke and Adelaide together can be a challenge because of the skin tone and hair color difference between the two of them. Brooke’s dark hair and olive skin combined with Adelaide’s red hair and fair skin can be tough. Care needs to be taken to make sure both their faces are exposed correctly.
Placing the reflector on Brooke’s side and letting the strength of the reflector hit her first and then fall off on Adelaide’s face will accommodate both of their skin tones. Feather the reflector away from Adelaide to keep her fair skin from becoming overexposed.
The reflector is almost turned away from them. This keeps the light strong on Brooke and lighter on Adelaide.
Moving along side of the window turns the window light into a direct key source rather than a backlight. This is a very popular way to shoot with a window light source. The light coming through the window is soft and wraps around the face very nicely. The window itself cuts the light off the wall behind the talent, allowing it to go darker and causing separation of our talent from the background. It’s hard to go wrong with this set up.
Brooke has a nice highlight on her face, and the background is falling slightly darker, so she separates nicely.
As the sunset, we were able to capitalize on the hard light coming into the room. The window cast a wonderful shape on the wall for us to play with.
Using the hard light coming through the window, we were able to take some more dramatic portraits. Don’t be afraid of allowing the highlight to blow out. Hard light can be dramatic, interesting, and a change of pace from what people are use to seeing.
In this set up, we are going to move the subject around and use the window as a large light source on the same axes as the camera.
The window is high and wide, giving us a very soft source of light. It’s bouncing all over the room and creating a soft yet slightly directed light. You can see how it has created a wonderful butterfly light with the shadows under her nose and cheekbones.
Moving out onto the fire escape, we did some shots using the window light in a grittier environment.
I wanted to give this image on the fire escape a more interesting look, so I did some work in Nik Color Efex Pro 4. I used a recipe called Black Gold. I changed the color pallet in Black Gold and made it less gold and more green. I pulled back the TC just a bit and added a vignette. There are so many possibilities in the post process.
It was a great shoot. Keep that video rolling and those cameras click’n.
Jay P. Morgan