Window light is a powerful and readily available creative source of illumination that is often accessible in your own home or when out on location. When combined with the right tools it can be controlled and will provide great flexibility. This affordable form of natural illumination makes a credible alternative to using studio lighting and was actually the major light source employed by early photographers before the invention of studio flashes.
Juliet Margret Cameron began her photography career late in life when she was presented her first camera at the age of 48. Cameron became utterly absorbed within her work, often obsessing over the specifics or outcomes of her images. Living on the Isle of Wight she converted her coal house into a darkroom and chicken coup into a photography studio where she would control the light from the windows and capture images using a wet glass plate negative system. The technique involved pouring a silver collodion mixture over a plate typically around 11×15” then coating it in Silver Nitrate in the darkroom to make it sensitive to light.
Cameron’s studios had a series of windows which she would use to control how the light fell on her subject. Her negatives were not very sensitive and required her subjects to sit for extended periods often causing a softness or slight blur. This effect became a characteristic of Cameron’s work which brought about scorn and ridicule amongst her peers but ultimately defined her as an artist. (V&A 2003)
The image above is of Sir John Herschel, scientist, Astronomer and Cameron’s biggest influence. Here the image has been created using window light where the subject has been placed under a high window and approximately 45°. The style of light is similar to that of Rembrandt with a small triangle of light forming under the eye on the side of the face furthest from the window. The illumination is gentle and the areas where the light meets shadow is soft and undefined.
I decided to try a couple of images using window light my self.
This image was shot around noon on a grey overcast day with the subject placed around 90° to an easterly facing window. The window height ran from below shoulder height to around 18 inches above the top of the head. The subject was positioned very close to the window, around 10 inches away. The glass is transparent allowing the light to pass through unhindered.
Even without diffusion the light is quite soft due to the heavy cloud cover and begins to fall away quickly. There is a second light source from the opposite side but it is quite far away and has little effect but without it the shadows would be darker.
This image was taken in mid-afternoon on a warm sunny day using a southerly facing window. The sun was quite strong and there was no diffusion used.
I placed the subject quite close to window to ensure a nice pattern and adjusted the slats on the blind for the desired effect. Because of the use of the blind it communicates to the viewer that the person is gazing out of the window, the light is bright across the face so it is saying that it is a bright day and the person is in a dark room. Without the blind the light would have been much harsher and the viewer would be unsure as to where the person is situated. The culmination of the light, composition and blind creates a narrative and imparts a story from within the image.
In this instance the blind has acted as a go between’s (gobo) which can add a dramatic effect to an image. I will be looking at them closely when deciding on my final images for this project to see if there is a way I could utilise this effect.
I was already beginning to get an idea of what lighting I was going to use and was leaning towards a mix of ambient and studio lighting. The location I had in mind did not have windows which effectively ruled out this method. I am however a huge fan of natural lighting and used it in previous projects and felt it was worth exploring here as a possible alternative.