When I do an indoor shoot (such as for my newborn sessions), I always wander around the location looking for the best light. I know many people aren’t sure what “great light” really means, so I hope this post helps!
When I do an indoor shoot I always shoot right next to a window or glass door if possible. Most photographers love huge north-facing windows (one of the first things I learned about photography when I was about 15, thanks mom!). North-facing is so great because you never get harsh, direct sunlight.
The pictures below are all from my own apartment, which has east-facing windows. In the morning the sun goes directly into the windows and creates what we call “hot-spots.” Hot-spots are terrible for taking photographs. In this first shot, you can see the the light is slightly diffused by the blinds, but it still creates bright light with many funky shadows.
As the day progresses, this hot-spot will move closer and closer to the window/door until it’s gone. This next picture was taken at about 10 am and the bright spots are almost gone! You can see that to properly expose for the light, the rest of the room looks very dark. Bright light like this creates harsh shadows on faces and causes people to squint.
Ah, isn’t this better? The blinds are still down, but the light is much softer. You can just barely see the shadows the blinds leave on the floor. You may also notice that this area is decently sized and uncluttered. I often move furniture around to get a big enough space to work with!
This is much better! The blinds are up, allowing for the most light. I also removed the screen outside to bring in more light, which is soft and pretty. This is the type of light you’d get from north or south-facing windows all day. If the window is east-facing, you’d get this light in the late morning/afternoon. If the window is west-facing you’d get this light in the morning/early afternoon.
You can see that there’s still a shadow by the wall at the bottom of the window, which is okay, but I would move my subject out of that shadow and into the light. The best light will come from windows/doors that reach all the way to the floor (I love sliding glass doors for this reason), but you can still get good light next to a window that’s higher up as long as raise your subject somehow or move them over out of the shadow.
Here are some shots of my hands (I’m jealous right now of people with children; insta-models!). This is in harsh light found in the first two pictures. The blinds are up and the shadows from the window pane are harsh and dark. The light is super bright and the kind that would make a person squint.
Doesn’t my hand (and the background!) look so much lovelier? This is in the light from the afternoon. No harsh shadows, no bright lights, and no squinting :)!
And now for a real live (small) person. This picture was taken in the exact same spot in the afternoon.
Another thing to consider when looking for good light is to look for things outside the window that could possible block a large portion of that good light from making it through, such as a tree or several bushes. The best light comes from a window that doesn’t have anything like a porch or other overhang outside of it (though mine does have a balcony right outside, so it’s not awful, just not the best).
12 thoughts on “Finding Indoor Light for Portraits”
Thanks for the posting. I like that you included examples of the light through the windows.
Thanks for a great tutorial on window lighting!
Thank you for sharing! I really appreciate your insight. Lighting is always one of those tricky things. Can I ask what your favorite lens is?
It depends on what I’m shooting, but I LOVE my 135 2.0 and my 85 1.8. I SO wish I had the 85 1.2. If I did, that would be my favorite :).
Such a wonderful post! Thanks so much for taking the time to illustrate with photos and tips.
thanks so much for sharing some knowledge…i love light hunting! sadly all my north facing windows have a porch cover right outside…booooo!
Now I need to figure out which windows are North facing????? Thanks, and that IS a GORGEOUS baby!!!!!!!!!!
All I can say is, “THANKS!” and “WOW!”
Kelli you are so great for sharing your tips! I love tutorial posts like this. As always, you are brilliant! (adorable baby too!)
Wow, great post. I re-learned some things. And OHHHH, what a beautiful baby and what a lovely shot of that beautiful baby….and …..awesome light! : )