Window Light: Painting by Camera
In our final examination of Mastering Natural Light Travel Photography, we will take a hard look at soft lighting via the window. Window light was recognized from the earliest days of photography to be a terrific source of diffused sunlight. Northern and southern exposures are the most useful as they are less direct, but east and west can also produce wonderful images during certain, well, windows of time. It really depends on the look you are after for a given subject, or the look you might discover through experimentation. In the age of digital, there is no excuse not to experiment like a madman, and every reason to.
Again, this series is intended as an introduction to working with the main varieties of natural light, and not an in-depth study. People don’t consider window light in travel photography as much as they should, so we are here to help! In the conclusion we will have a link to a more detailed article with many more photographs to illustrate the various ways of working with window light. Hopefully this article will serve to launch you toward the finer points. Below is a window light portrait by Luminous Journeys own, David Lazar. Few if any are better at mastering window light travel photography than Mr. Lazar. The Bangladeshi girl with the green eyes has graced more than one magazine cover. It’s also available for purchase at a discount for Luminous Journeys Newsletter subscribers.
Camera Settings for Window Light
• Use a low ISO to minimize noise and maintain image quality in low-light situations.
• Opt for a wide aperture for a shallow depth of field and to allow more light into the camera. This will increase the shutter speed you can use. The old exposure triangle – shutter speed, aperture, ISO. Find the right combination for your situation.
Tips & Techniques
• Capture portraits with soft and flattering light by placing your subject near a window. Duh.
• The bigger the window the better, as more diffuse light is normally better than less.But any size window you may be stuck with can work too. When traveling it’s not uncommon to find windows with no glass. As long as it’s not too harsh, this light helps to spotlight or outline your subject, especially in an otherwise dark room. The photo taken below by yours truly of a novice monk in Myanmar is an example of outlining, or rim light. There was no glass in the monastery window, which is common. Not perfect but not bad!
• Utilize window light to reveal intricate details in portraits, still life and interior photography. Check.
• Have the window be your only light source for more dramatic images. Okie doke.
• Experiment with different angles and distances from the window to achieve various effects. Got it.
• Try Black & White to reveal even more details. This can be very powerful in portraiture especially. With the color gone, the soul is easier detected. So to speak.
• If you have a paid model or even a friend posing for free, and you can get away with it, keep working them until they are tired and lose the self-consciousness. This was a technique famously used by Irving Penn to reveal the real person beneath the mask.
• Use sheer curtains to soften and diffuse harsh sunlight coming through the window. This might not be easy on the road, but you can usually dig up something. Never be afraid to ask.
• Place your subject at a slight angle to the window to create soft and flattering side light.
• Utilize shutters when possible to create light/shadow lines and add drama.
• For less drama and more subject, use a reflector to lighten up the shadows.
Common Mistakes & How to Correct
• Mistake: Overlooking the direction of light, resulting in flat and less engaging images.
• Correction: Position your subject to receive the most flattering and soft light from the window.
• Mistake: Underexposing the subject when shooting against a bright window, leading to silhouettes.
• Correction: Use exposure compensation to balance the exposure between the subject and a bright background.
• Mistake: Not utilizing the tips and techniques above.
• Correction: Utilizing the tips and techniques above!
Master Photographer Inspiration: Irving Penn, while not a travel photographer, did travel! He used window light for many of his most iconic portraits. His studio featured a window for a wall with neutral background, helping him to create timeless and soulful images with no background distractions. He kept it simple. Just ask Al Pacino and Pablo Picasso! Well, probably not Pablo. Unless by séance.
Images Courtesy The Irving Penn Foundation
Series Conclusion: Elevating Your Travel Photography Through Mastery of Light
Mastering natural light in travel photography is a transformative journey that empowers you to paint captivating stories with your camera. Through recognizing different types of light and how it changes, employing best camera settings, and implementing various techniques, you can harness the magic of natural light to create remarkable travel images. Remember that practice, patience, and experimentation are essential in honing your skills. Do enough of that in more controlled circumstances at home, and you’ll know just how to handle shoots on the road where you don’t necessarily have the luxury of time or models.
Going on a photo tour workshop with Luminous Journeys is a great way to learn more! Here’s an in depth 2600 word article by Lovegrove that you can adapt to travel photography. A window is a window. And eyes are the window to the soul, said old Bill Shakespeare. So catch them.