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Indoor Photography With Directional Sunlight

April 3rd, 2013 No Comments

DP School recently published an ‘exercise’ that encourages you to take indoor photographs using natural lighting from a window, and learn by experimenting.  It’s a very useful skill to develop; instead of using flash, ambient light pouring in through the windows makes for a pleasing, natural appearance for photographs of, say, family members playing indoor games or having coffee at the kitchen table.

The crux of A Simple Exercise on Working with Natural Light in Portraits by Mitchell Kanashkevich and Darren Rowse is to “get your subject to move to different spots in relation to the window. Move around with the subject, take photos, and pay attention to what effect the movement of both of you has on the way that light makes the subject look.”

The article steps you through three positional setups of light source, subject and photographer.  A photograph and a schematic accompanies each exercise.  These basic setups are meant to serve as a springboard for you to introduce variations and experiment.

Notice how the positional setup for exercise 3 results in a photo reminiscent of Michelangelo’s chiaroscuro and also causes ‘wells of light’ in the subject’s eyes.

You can experiment by mixing in the following variables to Kanashkevich and Rowse’s valuable exercise.

•  If the room is small, the colour of the walls will have an effect on your exposure.  Dark walls will not reflect light and so the window’s uni-directional light will result in hard shadow areas on your subject.  White or very light walls will reflect light and you will end up with a less contrasty photo with some natural fill-in.

•  Given that sunlight is entering through a window the sun must obviously be quite low on the horizon when its light is generally softer.  However, if you find that the light is hard you can put a mesh screen or gauze over the window; that will impart to directional sunlight an even gentler radiance.

•  If you have tungsten or blue fluoroscent lighting in your room, keep the lights off else you’ll get an interesting effect: a graduated cast across your photographs.  However, if you have daylight-balanced lighting, specially with a dimmer, you could keep it on to fill in the shadows.

•  Use props such as glassware on a table or jewellery on a female subject to catch and reflect the uni-directional sunlight for eye-catching effects.

•  Depending on the quality of the sunlight and how your room reflects it, try warming or cooling filters or adjusting the White Balance in your camera.


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