Make the most of the windows in your home or office by using them to take great photos. Read on to learn how to set up the scene, choose the best time of day to shoot, and control the light. Window light also teaches us a lot about shadows and how to use them to enhance the details, depth and features of our craft.
1. Get to Know Window Light
Window light provides two important features of great craft photos: light that is both soft and natural. Soft, natural light is important because it’s almost always flattering. Window light is accessible, easy to use, and it can be combined with other handy tools, such as a light tent.
The large, soft light source that is achievable using windows washes over your craft at a lovely angle, highlighting details and features along the way, and giving your photos depth. The key to getting it right is to shoot at the best time of day and to know how to control the light if it's not quite right.
Other than a window, of course, to begin with all that’s required is a table. Position the table near to the window. The proximity of the table to the window depends on the strength of light; if the light is intense, you can position your table or craft further away from the window. Positioning the table against a wall near perpendicular to the window will give you the option of creating a seamless background that is lit on one side, that is, the side closest to the window. (Learn how to make a seamless background in this tutorial on 10 great backgrounds for craft photography.)
Optional extras for
window light setup are white paper and tape—use these to cover the table, control the light, or create a seamless setting. In the example
shown above, the top of the table is evenly lit, with a soft glow and no harsh
shadows. This is achieved by shooting at the best time of day, which, for this particular window, is early-to-mid
morning when the sun is near the top of the house but hasn’t yet moved over to
the side of the house where this window is. This table is a high-gloss white laminate, but
you would also see a similar soft glow on a matte finish like natural wood.
3. Choose the Right Time of Day
Familiarise yourself with the direction of the sun over your home or office at various times of the day. Know when you can catch the light at a window at the back of your house and when you can’t. When the light has moved from one side of the house, you may be able to make it work on the other.
A good time to experiment with window light is when the sun is directly over the top of the building. At this time the building is acting as something of a diffuser and absorbing the majority of the direct or hard light, and, as a result, the light that does make it through the window is nicely softened and much easier to work with, as shown in the example above (Step 2). When the sun is streaming in at an angle through the window at the brightest time of day, it will be too harsh and bright.
Examples of the Wrong Time of Day
Hard light causes strong shadows, is less flattering to your craft, and is more difficult to work with. This is clear in the example below; notice the angle of the sun through the window and the dark and light areas on the table top.
When the sun is either on the opposite side of the building, or is too low to reach the window, the light will be too dull. The example below shows low light and the effect on the table top and ambient light; it's very dull, shadows are quite dark, and it would make shooting your craft difficult.
4. Control the Light
If the light isn’t ideal (that is, it's too hard, bright or dull) and you can’t postpone until a better time of day (or indeed another day), there are things that you can try to control it.
Increase the level of light by adding in a reflector. Take the reflector and position it opposite the light source, i.e. the window. This forces the light that is entering through the window to bounce, or reflect, back into your setting. White card works nicely as a reflector; cover it in tin foil if you need stronger reflection. There's only so much a reflector can do, though; if the light is too dull (as shown in Step 3), there may not be enough light available for reflection, and you will have to postpone the shoot or try a window elsewhere.
Diffuse hard light to create soft light. White fabric curtains or blinds can work nicely. If it's really bright, you can use a combination of curtains or a blind and paper. Simply tape a piece of semi-transparent paper to the window, as this makes the hard light spread out over the paper, and, therefore, become larger and softer. If one sheet isn’t enough to soften the light and shadows, repeat until satisfied.
Below is an example that shows hard light on the left of the table, and soft light through diffusion on the right of the table. It's under the paper-covered windows where light is softened that you should place and shoot your craft.
5. Understand Shadows
Window light enters your setting from one direction, and it's this directional light source that can highlight the beautiful details of your craft. The light washes over the object, highlighting the areas that face it and shading the areas that don’t. This combination of light and shadows, as long as they are soft and gentle, creates depth and interest.
Without shadows, objects can look flat, dull, and somewhat artificial. If you use window light to light your setting from behind, the front of your craft will be darker in the photo. If this (backlighting) is your preference for a particular photo, use a reflector to bounce light from the window back onto the front of your craft.
Soft light and gentle shadows enhance the detail and features of delicate crafts such as knitting and crochet. Here’s an example showing window light entering the scene from camera left; the softened light falls beautifully on the blanket and enhances the stitching, and soft shadows are created in the folds and sides of the stitches that oppose the window. This conveys the softness and depth of the blanket, and holds the interest of the viewer.
Now, Start Shooting!
Take these tips and practice as much as you can. You'll soon be an expert at working with window light and knowing the perfect time to shoot at various windows around your home. Give it a go and come back to tell us how you've got on!
The pink blanket shown in the images was hand-knitted by my Mum using vintage yarn.