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We help people take great photos and build profitable businesses that change lives. We’re high school sweethearts, former elementary school teachers and professional photographers. We're experts at making the complex feel simple and believe education is serious business, but learning should be fun.

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Window Lighting Essentials

How do I find natural light? How do I use it once I’ve found it? In this series, we help break down both so YOU can be a better, more confident photographer! If you’re new to this series, you can catch up here:

Part 1: Let There Be Light
Part 2: Backlighting Basics
Part 3: Open Shade
Part 4: Window Lighting Essentials
Part 5: Natural Reflectors
Part 6: Artificial Reflectors
Part 7: White Balance

Direct Window Light


This is the stuff to avoid when it comes to taking beautiful photos! Have you ever opened up window blinds or rolled up door shades and gotten a direct hit from a blast of hot, yellow sunlight? If you have, then you’ve experienced direct window light. Or maybe you have a favorite pet who can’t wait for the late afternoon to roll around to curl up in a ball on a small patch of sun that’s leaked through the glass door. Yep! That’s direct window light, too. Direct window light is the effect created when sunlight pours through a window and creates a bright, visible spot (a “hot spot”) that stands out from the space around it. This type of window light will give off the same effect through your camera as standing a subject facing directly into the sun. It will overexpose the image and highlight features on the client’s face that wouldn’t otherwise register. (Think magnified makeup vanity mirror with bright lights overhead. Yikes!) Just like outside, try to avoid this light inside.

vs.

Indirect Window Light


Now THIS is the good stuff. Indirect window light is the light that pours through the windows and glass doors of your house without creating bright hot spots. Instead of rays of sunshine streaming directly through the windows and glass doors, the sunshine is bounced off the ground or walls and then redirected into the house. It gives off a similar effect to open shade, that we walked about last week, because the light is generally even and soft. This is what you’re looking for when you’re forced to photograph inside without flash (our preference) on a wedding day or for a portrait session.

Amy and Jordan Photography_0023

3 Steps Before You Start

1. Open the windows.


Every time we arrive to an indoor shooting location, we always open all of the windows in the room (and sometimes even the doors if the weather is right!). The more light you have, the better, so always take advantage of every possible glint of light that nature will provide. Make sure to educate your clients before you do this, though. If you walk into a room and start running around like the Tasmanian Devil of windows, you’re going to unsettle your subjects. Instead, educate your clients so they know why you’re opening them. If your client has invested in their photos and fallen in love with your style, then they’ll likely be excited to help you do whatever you need to flatter them best. Just make sure to ask first and get them on your side.

2. Turn off the lights.


Okay, for this one, you’re REALLY going to have to ask your clients to trust you – especially in a bridal suite or hotel room. When we arrive to either of those locations, we always turn off all the lights in the room. All of them. We’ve found that with enough window light and high-performing cameras that have great light sensitivity (ISO), we’re able to get MUCH more consistent color from our images. Overhead lights and even bathroom lights cast warm yellow and orange glows that distract from your subjects and affect the color consistency of your images. When you’re inside, you want the most consistent light possible, and turning off the lights is the only way to get it. Again, it’s super helpful to get your bride on board so she knows that light is THE most important factor for her pictures. If she knows that, she’ll be supportive and so will everyone else. Plus, brides should ALWAYS be getting their makeup done in natural light only whenever possible to best simulate being outside.

3. Clear out the clutter.


Whenever we’re inside shooting, we always clear as much clutter to the side as possible, or into an adjoining room. We know that our job is to make the environment look better than real life, and without clearing the hotel or household clutter, we simply can’t. So, we recommend letting your client know that you’ll be moving the clutter when it’s time to lace up the dress and take portraits. She won’t want her hair dryer, her empty dress bag and her bridesmaids’ cell phones in her photos, but she’s not going to remember to move them on her wedding day either. So you’ve got to prep her ahead of time and then enlist the help of some bridesmaids to move everything away from the biggest window in the room. Don’t be afraid to unplug lamps, move furniture, or take paintings off the wall. We’ve done it all and we’ve love the result every time! Just don’t forget to put everything back before you leave!

Mai and PJ_0138

3 Tips for Using the Light

Find the biggest window.


You’ve probably heard photographers talk about “soft light” and you’ve probably talked to one or two who’ve made you feel inferior because you didn’t know what it was. Ah, yes, yes, yes… soft light… of course… It’s all I shoot with… Truth be told, they didn’t know what it meant either – and we didn’t when we first started. There’s really no such thing “soft” or “harsh” light. The light that comes from the sun is the same, just like water from a bucket is the same, but the light is different depending on what happens to it before it finds you, just like water is different whether it’s poured from a bucket or sprayed from a sprinkler. We still fall into the trap of saying “soft light” because it’s common jargon, but what you’re really looking for is the largest light source possible. The larger the light source, the more evenly distributed  (or softer) the light will be in your subject’s face. A good test is to walk up to a window and open your palm facing the light. If the cracks on your hand get filled in from wrist to finger tip, then you’re in the right place!

Find a clean backdrop.


In Arizona, the wild west, the home of cowboys and coyotes, we’ve shot in some interesting hotel rooms that pay homage to that legacy. It’s not uncommon in Arizona to find large cactus paintings or Native American warriors adorning the walls – which is all good and well, just not when you’re telling the story of a bride and her wedding day. Do your best to shoot into the cleanest, simplest, plainest wall that you can find. Like we said above, don’t be afraid to move pictures, paintings, and even lamps to get the shot you need. If you’re not able to move anything (because maybe it’s stuck to the wall), try shooting at the shallowest depth of field possible (1.2 – 2.8) and blur that background as much as possible. Since your subject will be standing close to the window, the background walls might be just far enough away to drown out the eye sores. 

A few steps and 45 degrees. 

If you stand your client too close to the window, you’ll likely put too much sun in their face and you’ll run the risk of overexposing the photo. Ask them to stand a few feet back from the window (where the light looked best in your hand) and stand at a 45 degree looking out the window. Forty-five degrees is the most flattering angle for anyone to be photographed, especially with indirect window light, because it highlights a smaller portion of their face, the rest of it drops off into the shadows, making their entire face and frame look thinner (for women) and more masculine (for men). The next time you visit an art gallery, you’ll notice that most individual portraits at done this way, because it’s so flattering to the subjects.

Amy and Jordan Photography_0021

You’re not always walking into perfect situations as a photographer on a wedding day, but your clients still expect and deserve the best. With these steps, you’ve got a proven, tested, mental checklist that you can take with you and make your indoor photos go from average to awesome. Next week, we’re tackling natural reflectors, how to find them and how to use them, which is especially important for photographers shooting alone. Have a great week friends, and feel free to leave your questions and comments below!

Alisa

4

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  1. Kathryn says:

    I understand what you said about the client looking out the window at a 45 degree angle. My question is, where are you as the photographer standing? With your camera pointed at them with the window in the background, with the window at your right (or left) side, or somewhere in between?

  2. Heidi says:

    Hi, I’m trying to understand the part about 45 degrees facing the window. Are you standing right next to the window as the photographer?

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- priscilla T. 

"I LOVEEE the Monday Minute and I look forward to it every week!"

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