Rembrandt didn’t have a softbox. Neither did Vermeer or Caravaggio. Yet the portraits created by these artists have been held up as examples of beautiful lighting for centuries.
Borrow a page from the Old Masters: leave the lamps at home, and use the lovely light from a window to illuminate your next location headshot or business portrait. As an added bonus, you’ll have almost no setup, and won’t be dependent on electricity. Here’s how to do it.
Step 1. Find a large window or doorway that does not have direct sun streaming through it. Indirect lighting is key to this setup.
Step 3. Position the model in front of the backdrop. It doesn’t have to be far; you just need enough distance between the subject and the backdrop to ensure that his or her shadow will not be visible on the background.
Step 4. Take your shot. If you position the model facing directly into the window, you’ll get a soft, even light that is very flattering for female subjects.
If the completely frontal light is little too flat for you, just angle yourself or the model slightly. This will allow the light to have a bit of directionality, without creating dramatic shadows.
For a male subject, you may want to angle the model and backdrop even more. This will give you a very “painterly” quality of light. You can easily adjust how much light falls on the background by angling it towards or away from the window. This setup is great for on-the-fly business headshots.
A nice benefit of using window light, as opposed to artificial lighting is that the model’s pupils will be larger (which is usually more appealing), and his or her face won’t have the muscular tension that inevitably accompanies the anticipation of a sudden, very bright light. Moreover, since the actual light level is relatively low, it lends itself readily to the use of a wide aperture, providing very flattering, shallow depth of field.