8 creative ways to use window light

  • girl playing in window seat by Kelly Marleau of Fiddle Leaf Photography

I have a window in my house that I’ve fallen hard for.

It’s a bay window in our family room.

It has unfinished casing, chipped paint on the ledge, and is incredibly cold in the winter, but it still doesn’t stop me from loving it. It faces west out to our backyard, and lets me look out at the field behind us, the downtown skyline, and my daughter playing outside in her play house.

Above all of that though, it just lets some seriously gorgeous light into our house. It’s a photographers dream.

You might not have a bay window like this in your house, but these same principles can be applied to so many types of windows. Take some time to study the light and how it moves through your house during the day and I’m sure you’ll find creative ways to use your special window too.

1. Frame it

My window happens to be square, but even if yours isn’t, you can still use it as a frame. Think of the casing, the grid in the window (also known as the muntins), the baseboards below and the ceiling above – they all need to be taken into consideration when setting up your shot. I like to experiment where I place my subject, but one of my favourites is to center the window and then have my subject off-center within the window.  You can also try using half of your window as frame and then center your subject as in the second example below.

photo of girl in front of blown window by Kelly Marleau of Fiddle Leaf Photography

girl laying in window seat by Kelly Marleau of Fiddle Leaf Photography

2. Partial silhouette

Partial silhouettes tend to work best on an overcast day. If it’s too sunny outside and you expose for the landscape outside, there’s the potential that you will lose all detail in your subject’s face.  Expose for what’s outside your window. You want to keep that detail, while still maintaining some light on your subject’s face. I love that my window brings enough light to allow a bit of light to fall on the floor so that feet aren’t lost in the shadows.

maternity silhouette by Kelly Marleau of Fiddle Leaf Photography

3. Use the ledge

I often use the window seat as a backdrop. It’s white and is well lit, so it works well for all sorts of still life shots. Even if you don’t have a window seat, if you have a floor length window you can achieve the same effect by using the floor, or even putting down a few floor boards or some fabric to make a little backdrop for yourself.

empty cup of wine by Kelly Marleau of Fiddle Leaf Photography

4. Ambient light

This might seem like an obvious one, but sometimes it’s the one I forget the most. I’m so busy thinking of how I can incorporate this awesome window into my shots that I forget to just leave it out of the frame completely and simply use all the light it lets in. If I don’t want shadows from the window itself (see #5 below), I find it’s best to shoot midday. The sun isn’t fully shining in yet, but it’s not dark like in the morning (as this window faces due west). In both the shots below, I have my left shoulder to the window and I am facing the wall to the right of the window with my subjects about 3 feet away from the wall.

kid wearing Mickey Mouse ears by Kelly Marleau of Fiddle Leaf Photography

dad holding baby by Kelly Marleau of Fiddle Leaf Photography

5. Shadows

I love shadows! Because of this, I often search for hard light in my home and jump at the opportunity to use it. When the afternoon sun starts to get low, it makes our family room glow golden and I’m usually running for my camera. I meter for the brightest light and see how the shadows fall. My daughter also likes to play in the light and will often play hop scotch with the grid on the floor or make hand puppets onto the wall.  An added bonus is that the shadows hide all of the toys and mess that the room can accumulate by the late afternoon.

child playing in the light and shadows by Kelly Marleau of Fiddle Leaf Photography

girl standing in the sun through the window by Kelly Marleau of Fiddle Leaf Photography

6. Bring the outside in

When I take pictures of my kids I like to have other details in the shot to help me remember the time of year and what was happening when they were that particular age. Showing what is outside of the window can sometimes be just as important as what is inside. You’ll need your subject fairly close to the window so that you can expose for the surroundings outside while still maintaining enough light on the subject’s face and/or body.

girl playing in window seat by Kelly Marleau of Fiddle Leaf Photography

This shot was taken within seconds of the one in #1 above, but I adjusted my angle slightly so that I captured the snow on the ground and it became more obvious that she was watching the snow fall, instead of simply looking out the widow.

girl looking out window by Kelly Marleau of Fiddle Leaf Photography

7. Inside out

Try stepping outside and getting a fresh perspective by shooting your window from the other side. This makes for some fun night shooting and is also a great way to capture your family without them even knowing.

looking into a window by Kelly Marleau of Fiddle Leaf Photography

8. Details

Lastly, don’t forget to document all of the treasures your little ones leave behind – they can often say just as much (or more) as actually having your kids in the frame. Our window is never without finger prints and a day doesn’t go by where I don’t find a toy left behind.

photo out the window by Kelly Marleau of Fiddle Leaf Photography

stuffed animal by Kelly Marleau of Fiddle Leaf Photography

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About the Author:

Photography is my therapy and my love language; it's not just something I do, but is something I feel. I'm a hoarder of memories and a visual storyteller. I’m a firm believer that these truly are the times of your life. Whatever place you’re in and whatever point you’re at. You’re here…it’s yours….claim. I'm based out of Edmonton, Alberta and offer in-home newborn and family photo sessions as Fiddle Leaf Photography.

7 Comments

  1. Nicole S. May 14 2015 at 12:14 pm - Reply

    These are wonderful tips, Kelly! Thanks for the inspiration!

  2. Rachelle May 15 2015 at 12:08 am - Reply

    Great tips and inspiration Kelly! Thanks for sharing!

  3. Andrea Katolin May 15 2015 at 6:48 am - Reply

    Such great tips (although I really do want a window like that now!)

  4. kay May 15 2015 at 7:08 pm - Reply

    Great tutorial! When you say in tip # 5 that you meter for the light. Does that mean that you adjust your exposure so that the meter falls out on zero right in middle ? Or to the right or left of that?Thanks!

    • Kelly Marleau May 19 2015 at 12:42 pm - Reply

      Sorry for my late reply. It depends where that highlight is falling. In that first example I’d expose for the skin on her face, which would be slightly more than ‘zero’ as zero is set to expose perfectly for middle grey. In the second example I was metered right at zero as I was exposing for the floor, not her skin. Hope that helps. Let me know if you’d like any more clarification. 🙂

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