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Guide to using Natural light indoors for great Photographs!

How does light exist in Nature? Light exists in nature in various forms, including sunlight, moonlight, starlight, and reflected light from surfaces such as water, desert, snow, and foliage. If you understand natural light well, In photography, it can be used to create a natural and realistic look in photographs, even when shooting Indoors in your home or in a studio. The idea is to adapt this abundant light in our Photography workflow. Keeping this in mind there are several daylight studios also that exist, with large windows in the direction which has abundant light. This allows good usage of natural daylight and the same can be supplemented with strobes if required. If outside light is not favorable, curtains can always be drawn instead and artificial light can be put to use.

Photos - Tima Miroshnichenko

Here are some useful tips for utilising natural light indoors.

Use a window to light up your subject.

One of the easiest ways to incorporate natural light into your photography, when shooting indoors is to use a window. Place your subject near a window and use the natural light to illuminate them. You can also use sheer curtains or diffusers to soften the light and create a more natural look. Take care that the window is on the side of the subject with nice soft or hard light as the case may be, falling on the subject. The larger the window is, the softer is light and this lets the light reach a broader area of the room you are shooting in and the light gets a chance to bounce back and strike the side of the face away from the window. If the window is small, the light just about reaches the subject alone and not much of the light reaches the other surfaces to bounce back.

learn how to use window lighting in Photography

Photograph by Furknsaglam

Use reflectors

learn how to use window lighting in Photography

Reflectors can anyways be used to bounce natural light back onto your subject, helping to fill in shadows and create a more even look. You can use a white reflector to create soft, diffused light, or a gold reflector to create warmer, more dramatic light. This is also essential sometimes when the interiors of your room are not very neutral and have darker or colder tones. Even if the interiors are quite warm, sometimes this may be too much of a warm cast for a Photograph. This is aesthetically pleasing but may be technically too off the correct white balance.

Use artificial light as a supplement

While natural light can be beautiful, it's not always sufficiently available or consistent. In these cases, you can use artificial light to supplement the natural light and create a consistent look. For example, you can use a softbox or umbrella to mimic the look of natural window light and add to the light coming in from the window. To the viewer, it will appear as if it's the window light alone which is illuminating the subject, whereas you have supplemented the same with an external light as well to allow a good exposure. You may also use a large and soft additional light from a position closer to the camera to create an overall fill so that the contrast is reduced, allowing a balanced exposure.

learn how to use window lighting in Photography

Photography : Cottonbro Studio

The existing lights can work as fill lights for the subject and for creative purposes one can even include these lights in the frame. If these are tungsten lights, they further add to the warmth in the photograph.

learn how to use window lighting in Photography

Image: Munish Khanna

This is actually not window lighting but artificial light positioned outside so that it appears to be window lighting. The Rain too is artificial.

Balance the lighting

It all depends on the illumination levels outdoors and indoors. Ideally, everything should be visible outside as well as inside. This is how we see with our eyes. We have the ability to quickly and subconsciously change the iris of our pupil as we see a brighter area and almost instantly a darker area. Our eye is constantly scanning across different brightnesses in our everyday routine. The camera does not work quite like this. It "sees" the scene with one aperture opening which may either be correct for the brighter or the darker tones if there is to much of a difference within the same scene.

  • Add ambient or flashlights in the interiors so as to balance it with the exteriors.

  • Start with the correct exposure for the scene outside the window. Now add a strobe/Flashlight to provide similar exposure to the unlit areas. Remember, with flash, we are restricted to the synchronization shutter speed and cannot go above that unless we are using high-speed synchronization which has its own limitations. We cannot go to a slower shutter speed as that requires the usage of a tripod and is also not recommended if we are shooting a human being who may not be rendered sharp however well he may avoid his movement. So effectively, you need to play around with the strength of your light source, its distance from the subject and the aperture set on the camera to control the exposure.

  • The ideal is to control the strength of the light because changing the distance of the light also changes the quality of light. Bringing it closer to the subject makes it larger for the subject and hence softer in nature. Increasing the distance from the subject makes it smaller and hence more hard in nature. However, when you take the light away, there is more light bouncing off the other surfaces in the room as well which may kind of adds to the overall diffuseness of the light.

  • As a last resort, adjust your ISO to balance the outside and inside light levels. Remember, it will uniformly increase or decrease the levels for both interiors and exteriors.

  • It is your creative decision if you wish to keep the outside light levels a bit brighter or darker than the inside as per the situation. In everyday circumstances, these may not be perfectly balanced and to convey a particular mood you may want to convey the difference in the light levels.

  • If getting detail in the scene outside the window is important then choose the time of the day when sun is falling on the outdoor elements and sky appears blue. If the sun itself is in this direction, the sky would be washed out with less detail in the elements around.

White Balance

If You are using artificial lights inside, particularly Tungsten lights, you need to keep in mind that these are balanced around 3300 Kelvin and outside daylight is balanced around 5000- 6500 Kelvin. If your interiors are correctly balanced for white, the outside light will appear bluish. If the outside is correctly white balanced, the inside will appear yellowish. This is again, your creative discretion as to how you wish the tones to appear.

learn how to use window lighting in Photography

Photography by Maria Helena Mazuroski

For this Image, the Photographer chose to keep the white balance for Daylight leading to a warm tone, especially on the skin.

Use the time of day to your advantage

By incorporating natural light into your indoor photography, you can create images that have a natural and realistic look, even when shooting in a controlled environment. If you're shooting outdoors, the time of day can have a big impact on the quality and color of the light. Early morning and late afternoon tend to have warm, soft light, while midday light can be harsh and unflattering. In the same way when you are shooting indoors the direction of light plays a big role. Windows facing the East will work better in the first half of the day whereas the windows facing the West will allow more light inside during the second half. Since the sun is mostly overhead in the middle of the day, it won't allow much direct light to enter from the windows. Not that the light would be less but it won't be the typical directional light that you will get in the mornings and evenings. Plan your shoot around the time of day that will give you the look you want. Choose the window to work around as per the direction of the window and the time of the day.

When you visit the location for a recce, do carry a compass with you as it helps you get a better understanding of the directions if you happen to be visiting the plcace at night. These days, its common to have a compass in our mobile phones. You can plan the sequence of your shots according to the position of the windows in respect to the lighting direction and be more organized for the shoot.

Positioning the Subject

Depending upon your position in reference to the window, the illumination may be Side or front lighting for the subject.

Photography : Cottonbro Studio

It's the same window with the light coming in. For the man facing sides ways, its front lighting and for the woman facing towards the camera, its side lighting.

Not always necessary to be closer to the window

learn how to use window lighting in Photography

Photo by Sam Lion

When you are away from the window, the light level decrease as well. But in some locations, you may have white or very light walls and furnishings which increases the over all bounced and hence diffused light levels in the room. You may even be having windows on both side of the room, which works quite well in having a rim light on the subject as well as a good filll in light from the window behind the camera.

Why not Exclude the Window and just use the Light !

Though, including the window makes the photograph more interesting and nostalgic, one can even exclude it all together and just use the daylight coming in.

Photography : Cottonbro Studio

Photographers, who often shoot indoors with the natural light coming through a window love a favorite 50mm lens. Check out why?

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