We absolutely love the results when our indoor subjects are photographed illuminated with window light. To clarify, this is specifically referring to photographs taken indoors, when the majority of the light is coming from a nearby window (or sometimes door). Depending on the time of day, cloud cover, and if there is an eave overhanging the window or some other exterior obstructions, the brightness of light coming from windows will vary, but in many instances is not exceptionally bright. For this reason most of the time to take advantage of this nice light, a subject would typically be less than 6 feet away from the window. Window light is renowned and loved by photographers, and with good reason. As light passes through a window, several things happen: they diffuse and soften the light, they provide a “perfect” natural color balanced light source, and they are in many cases very large light sources. Having a large, diffused light source softens shadows and creates even, smooth transitions from dark to light areas. This soft light also reduces the appearance of shiny, specular highlights which can illuminate pores and imperfections and especially sweat droplets from certain angles.
Windows emit light which is diffused and soft. As sunlight makes it’s way into most windows, it is bouncing around and being redistributed before contacting the glass, then even more as it passes through the glass of the window, leaving the window as one large, even source of light. Large, even light sources create smooth shadow transitions and soft, flattering lighting. What does this mean on wedding day? Well first, to be clear, being lit by window light is definitely not a requirement for a good photo by any means, but in the case of most photographers, it will generally help to achieve the goal of creating stunning photos a little bit easier. For the bride, this means setting up hair and makeup sitting next to a window whenever possible. Before we started educating our brides on this subject, oftentimes we would find people hidden away inside small dark bathrooms, or on the other side of the room away from natural light sources in order to take advantage of a small table or to lay things out on the bed. Don’t be afraid to move that little table near the window! Check out the photo below which is lit entirely by window light (with all other lights turned off).
Beautiful, right? This photo was not staged, although we had previously advised Marisa about our preference for window light. She chose to put on her dress in a fantastic location. She’s actually standing right next to two windows – one to her right and one to her left. We chose to edit out the windows to not distract from her, but here is a photo with the windows so you can get an idea of what exactly you are looking at.
Remember when I mentioned being lit by *only* window light and nothing else? That is exactly what is happening in this photo. All of the interior lights in the room were turned off, leaving her lit only by the two windows you see in front and behind her. Why is this important? To start, many interior lights aren’t color balanced to match natural light. Think orange tungsten or green fluorescent. Although many newer CFL bulbs and LED lights are balanced in color temperature to match natural light, they are still small (and less bright) light sources than most windows, creating harsher, smaller light sources. See how smooth and soft the transition is from brightly lit to darker shadow area? This is a result of her standing close to this large window.
Window light, while beautiful, in many cases isn’t particularly *bright*. This means that interior lighting can easily interfere with or overpower it, creating an off putting color clash or in the case of overhead lighting, causing raccoon eyes (caused by an overhead light source casting shadows over the eye socket, leaving dark eyes like those of a raccoon). For this reason, we like to explain to our clients that we might occasionally ask for permission to adjust the lighting by switching off lights in a room, when appropriate.
Here is an example of an unedited photo taken with interior lighting on in the room which is competing with the window light. Notice how the right side of the face is filled in with greenish looking light? It is competing with the pure, natural window light, resulting in what we consider to be a less than ideal look.
However, not to worry, as I said before, this doesn’t mean it’s not possible to take beautiful photos in this scenario. It just changes the framework to photograph within. Here is one of the finished images we included in the collection from this scene:
When we edited this photo, we chose to essentially “remove” all of the artificial light from the exposure, only allowing the soft, even, and bright window light to remain.
For this example I’d like to show a photo taken using window light in combination with flash to illustrate how seamless the two can work together, showing the benefit of having two different light sources which emit the same color spectrum of light. Since the flashes we use in photography are designed to emulate the color of light that is produced by the sun, the two can work together in harmony.
What you see in the photo above is the brides face and the front part of her body being lit by window light, while her back is lit with flash. She is sitting just a couple feet in front of a large sliding glass door which is providing an extremely large and soft light source. Notice the shadow being cast onto her body from her right hand? See how soft and undefined it is? This is the shadow being cast by the window light source. Now compare it to the sharper and more defined shadow from her earring, which is being cast by a small light source, our camera flash which is positioned behind her.
This grooms getting ready room was in what was once essentially a fortress, and there was only a single window set within deep stone. You can see in the photo below that the window on the left is the sole source of light while he is standing and facing directly towards it, putting himself in a perfect lighting scenario.
We actually liked the light from that window so much, we decided to take some group photos of the groomsmen using it as our light source. Photography of this type lit with window light isn’t exactly traditional, but I think in this case it gives the photo a very simple and genuine look, and illustrates the depth and quality of light provided by natural light sources.
We love it when brides and grooms want to learn more about the things that we as photographers can use to our advantage in creating a stunning collection of images. I consider access to great window light a necessity, and would certainly advise all brides and grooms to consider this when deciding on the spaces they will be spending their time getting ready before the wedding. I hope you’ve enjoyed learning a bit about window light and how it works!
Here are some more of our favorite wedding photographs captured using window light as a primary light source. Enjoy!