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Window Light Portrait

People are my favorite subjects to photograph - and they can also be the most difficult. When you are working with a still life or landscape, you don't have to be respectful of its time. You can photograph it until your heart is content, making every minor (or major) adjustment you want. When working with people though, not only do we not want to bore them to death, but we need to respond (sometimes very quickly) to their movements and expressions.

The following exercise will give you an opportunity to create a professional studio-looking portrait, without a lot of fussy set up, so you can focus on the person, and getting a good exposure of them.


  • Choose a subject who is willing to be cooperative. Actually, you can choose a slightly uncooperative one too but just be prepared to have your attention divided, or your practice time shortened.
  • Get a black piece of fabric and find a window that you can use for light.
  • Set up your "window light studio" according to the diagram below.
  • Set your ISO, Aperture, and Shutter Speed - or use one of your semi-manual settings. If you use semi-manual on aperture priority, be careful to watch your shutter speed. When photographing people, children in particular, you will want a faster shutter (maybe start around 1/125) to make sure that you don't miss any spontaneous expression.

Tip 1: In portraiture a lot of people will make the mistake of not filling the frame with their subject. Don't be afraid to get close and give your subject a strong presence in the frame.

Tip 2: You will get a softer light if you diffuse the window light with a sheer curtain. If the window light is not diffused the light will be more harsh. Ideally, a window facing north on a cloudy day, will give you decent conditions for shooting with a light sheer for softness. In the example below the window was facing east, cloudy day, sheer panel for diffusion.

Tip 3: If your subject has long hair or a flowing shirt or dress, it can be fun to add a fan or blow dryer to create some movement in the hair. In this image of my grand daughter we put a fan between her and the window and had her face it, blowing her hair back.

  • Post your best image to comments, along with your settings and any questions. Happy portrait making!