23 September 2009

Photo tips - Using Natural Window Light

If you can't get outside to take your pictures or you just don't fancy having strangers look at you in the park while you set up (I know not all of us have gardens!), the good advice given by alot of crafters is to steer clear of using your flash and head towards a window.  In reality things are a litttle more complex as the sun has this annoying habit of moving around!

I live in a mid- terrace house, my front windows face west and my rear windows face east, so when its sunny I have light streaming into my kitchen and my daughters room in the morning and into the living room and my bedroom in the afternoon.  This has an enormous influence on where I set up to take shots of my wristlets and bead kits.  If only I could pick my house up and move it 90 degrees!

Which Window?

Take a look at this lighting map and try to visualise how your own space fits in, you might find that it's your downstairs bathroom that is getting the best light!  I have a degree in architecture and the path of sunlight and how it impacts a space was always really important to consider when designing a building, the light models could get very complex when you took into consideration the time of year and time of day, solar azimuths etc... (yawn)   In your own house it should be a little easier (and without the need of a scientific calculator) to see how far away from the window is still light enough to take bright pictures.  You can then decide if you need to drag your dining room table across the room or not, it may only be necessary in the depths of winter but as a rule I would say get as close as you can to the light, this will also help to minimise long shadows.

Another thing to consider when choosing which window is the decor of that room, a bright white kitchen window will be brighter than a brown velvet clad parlour with ebony floors!

What is the best light?

Artists love north light, they rave about it - it is soft and even, because there is no direct sun all the light from the sun is bouncing off the sky itself which is acting as a huge diffuser.  If you are taking photographs and you can't avoid a strong direct light then you could try to make your own diffuser.  Anything that the light can get through easily but that will spread and soften it, such as tracing paper will work, you can buy this in very large sheets and could tape or pin it up to a very sunny window. 

If you are trying to achieve dramatic images then strong directional sunlight will certainly achieve this but for shots which you are using to sell craft it is far better to go for soft natural lighting which avoids these harsh shadows, which can alter the colours and textures of the piece.

I haven't got one myself to test the theory but a north facing velux window can apparently give you the best light, so if any of you have attic conversions it may be worth heading upstairs.


I always use a reflector or two, a simple piece of equipment which can easily be made from tin foil wrapped around card,  they are invaluable.  The surface needs to be scrunchy not smooth to bounce the light all around.  Once you are set up to take a shot, preferably using a tripod - try moving the reflector around and see what a difference it makes to any nasty shadows that your object is creating.  (You can buy them in the shops too of course)

Take a look at these shots (which I took very hastily this morning), one with the reflector and one without, I haven't brightened these in the editing stage in order to show the true difference so the background looks a little grey unfortunately as it was very dull today.  The very dark shadow on the left image has been lifted out by the reflector used in the right image and the material which is a thick cotton/linen looks smoother and brighter as each individual weave is not casting it's own mini shadow.   

Where to stand?

Another factor to consider is not just which window but from what angle you take the shot.  Take care to position the object so that the light can get at it! Think carefully about the texture of the object and how the light will 'play' across it.  Some weaves or knits may benefit from darker shadows to show how chunky they are in reality.

I try to stand my tripod between the window and the object I am photographing, slightly to the left or right of the window so that it does not cast a shadow.  This means that the shadows will usually fall behind the object and be very short if there are any to the left or right.  I then use reflectors to eliminate these shadows and reflect light to the back of the object and over the top.  You may need to get some help with holding your reflectors (or a makeshift stand) if you don't have a tripod otherwise you could compromise the shot as two hands will be needed on the camera, especially when light levels are low, to stop camera shake.

See the rest of my tips by clicking here.
Please leave a comment if you have any queries or just want to tell me how you manage with window light