Window Light

Warning… NSFW.

I'm about to finish up my week in terms of real work so that I can head out to the Atomic Canary:Baltimore space. I have a list of a thousand things to do in the course of a tiny bit of time down there this weekend. I'll probably get one or two semi-done. One of the things that's high on my list of priorities is getting a feel for the window light mini-workshop I'm doing next weekend. It's not that I can't do it in my sleep, I can but I'm a preparedness freak and like to have everything laid out way before I actually have to do it. I probably put ten times the hours in before these mini-workshops than the actual event. Not to completely script them, that's a recipe for boring for both me and the participants but more to know exactly what I'm going to cover.

For those that can't be there a few thoughts crossed my mind that you might find interesting fodder for thought. For those close by… come on down. I think we still have a few spots left before we hit the "I cannot deal with that many people" limit. I'll be working with a model I've never shot before but Carly believes will be an interesting combo of opinionated, passionate, obstinate, and gasoline on the fire with me. Should prove interesting…

Okay, the matter at hand. Window light, natural light, etc. Ask a few photographers/artists what a perfect natural light studio might consist of and you'll likely get a knee-jerk reaction that includes – North Light among other stuff that will vary. Let me argue the case for a moment that North Light is frigging boring. That's the last thing you want if you have to live with it day in and day out. Unless of course you actually want to make the exact same pictures day in and day out. I guess if you are a painter that takes weeks to do a painting of a pear in a bowl on a table it might make sense to have the same exact looking light all the time. Of course I am coming at this living in the northern hemisphere – if you are on the bottom of the planet, then reverse all the norther/southern things in the rest of the post.

When it came to selecting the space for the first Atomic Canary location I was a huge fan of the option that had a Southern Exposure. With a Northern Exposure you get sky all the time, all day every day. With a Southern Exposure you get exactly the opposite, sun all day every day. The sun moves across the space too at very predictable arcs. Heck there's even an app for that. Well at least you get sun on sunny days. On cloudy days you get, ummmm, stuff that looks like northern light all day.

In my window light ebook the main point is controlling the light when you can't move any of the light sources and you cannot affect their intensity. There are lots of different images you can make with lots of different lighting ratios and effects in one room with just northern light or sky light. Guess what happens when you have sun… Those options explode exponentially using the same principles. The options and opportunities from crazy high contrast to unbelievably low perfect fill go though the roof. Move one foot one way or another and you go from direct sun, black shadows, hard source too pillowy soft main light with fantastically beautiful uplight for fill at just about any ratio you want.

My perfect natural light studio definitely had a southern exposure. The diversity of images I can make in terms of lighting within a few steps in five minutes meshes perfectly with my lack of patience and need for changing things really quick. Let's look at three images out of a few thousand I made from the hip, behind the scenes, fly-on-the-wall mode over the last couple of weekends. Hell, I'll stick with images I made within five minutes of each other. The one at the top is direct sun with a conservative exposure. Here's the exact same scene from a different angle with direct sun and more liberal exposure.

You can probably guess what happens when you have your subject take one step either forward or back out of the direct sun. What happens if we move a bit farther into the room out of the direct sun?

There are limitless possibilities just moving around a bit. Those explode even further when you bring something as simple as a piece of white foamcore to the situation. Farther still if you get the white on one side black on the other type. I can make just about anything I want in the space on any given day with just some white foamcore or black foamcore used as reflectors, or flags along with moving around a bit. How about a silver reflector… What's more is the fact that we've got thousands and thousands of watt-seconds of daylight balanced power if we want to combine. Oooops. Sorry I went too far there. The task at hand is window light right…

So what's the rub. I've shot thousands of behind the scenes shots over the last few weeks. I should be pretty familiar with the setup, time of day, etc, etc. I've offered suggestions and set things up for other photographers so I have pretty much done way way more than I could possible do or explain in a two hour mini-workshop right? Well, as chance would have it, every single occasion I have been at the baltimore space with camera in hand it has been a sunny day. Awesome. Too bad I really would like to have Plan B down if it happens to be cloudy next weekend. I like to have an agenda that's oriented to the space and ensure that it is effective in really allowing the participants to internalize some of the concepts I think are the take aways while shooting it. Just my over-preparedness thing. The weatherman predicts every day this weekend will be either partly cloudy or mostly cloudy whatever the difference is. Key word being cloudy – hence the primary objective of my trip.

Okay, one more picture for the road. Simulating cloudy on a sunny day.What if we flag the sun and only let the skylight enter the rest of the room in the same spot as the last picture?

Every time I do this window light mini-workshop I do it a bit differently. Same concepts, different set of examples, setups, execution, and definitely different set of asides regarding subject treatment given the location, the light, and what we might want to communicate. I think I'm going to do a split genre kind of thing for this one. Half fashion-y, portrait-y and half fine art figure-y. We'll see.


Ps. For anyone that cares all the images from top to bottom are pretty much random treatments in post while I was playing with VSCO film 05 and getting a feel for it. Top – Kodak UltraMax 400/warm. Second – Kodak Royal Gold 400 strait up. Third – Agfa Vista 100 Cool+ meh - should prolly go for something different in this context. Last image – also Agfa Vista 100 cool+, in this context I actually like that treatment.

All shot with my Fuji X100S while trying to be invisible.

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