The Beauty of Window Light Portraits

The simplicity of using a window as a light source coupled with the beautiful, soft, and almost calming effect of the light makes it one of the most popular ways to work in portrait photography.

This is an Excerpt from my new upcoming book from Amherst Media. More info can be found at on

It requires not additional equipment than your camera, possibly a reflector, and the occasional background. And while the pictures look easy to replicate, there is a lot of science still taking place and we need to keep in mind all of the physics that we discussed in earlier chapters. If you want the light source larger and softer, since you can’t move it, you move the subject closer. If, however, you need more directional light, perhaps a little sharper shadows and something not quite so soft, moving your client away from the light the your other control.

Most art students know of artists that were known for using north-facing windows to paint by in order to eliminate any time of day when direct sun would come through the window. When windows face north you have the best possible chance for the longest period of time with only non-directional soft light.

With window light portrait you’ll soon figure out that great care must be taken on where you stand relative to your subject or model. If you are positioned at about the same distance from the wall as your subject is from the window, you’ll have split lighting on the subjects’ face whenever they are looking into the camera. In order to maintain control over the light direction an create more depth, more ratio options, and catch lights in both of their eyes, just move the subject very slightly away from the window and move yourself a little closer to the window. Just these two subtle adjustments can make a big difference in the ability to shoot.