Augmenting window light for photographing activity in the living room

Discussion in 'Lighting Equipment' started by ilkka_nissila, Jun 9, 2009.

  1. I'm planning to photograph a family in their living room, with either everyone sitting in a fairly formal arrangement, but also pictures of the children playing, etc. I have experimented using just the window light to take portraits of the children playing and this works but the shadow contrast is quite high and the light varies a lot from position to position; a picture of several people would work badly using just the window light. The living room is quite large (about 50m^2), and there is a single window on each of three walls (the windows are relatively small compared to the area of the walls). There is a fireplace on the fourth wall, and the corridor to kitchen opens next to the firewall
    I don't need to light the whole room but I would like there to be enough space so that there can be some action and the light should be even enough so that I don't need to adjust lights to compensate all the time. I think if I could augment the window light sufficiently that there is a relatively evenly lit area of 30m^2 (about half of the room), I could work with that. Now the question is what should I use as additional light? I have only experience with lighting very small areas such as those for macro or for portraits of 1-2 people. I'm thinking of a skylite panel and a couple of speedlights behind it with umbrellas. This would be on the fireplace side, orthogonal to the main window in this area of the room. I can't decide on the size of the panel to get; I think using the 2x2m panel would require multiple speedlights and still I'm not sure if I can light it all that evenly. A studio flash with an octa bank would be another possibility but I suspect it would be too powerful to balance with the window light - typically window light can be as low as f/2.8 1/200s ISO 800 on a rainy day. I think the walls, roof, floor are not very neutral and bounced light would have some color. I would like to retain as much of the character of the room so using flash as the only source of light isn't compatible with that with the lighting resources that I have. Using high ISO isn't a problem (D700). Thanks for your suggestions.
  2. It sounds like some hot lights are what you need. They're soft enough to be able to add a bit more to windowlight, while not overpowering it. I would agree that introducing any stobes to the equasion will quickly overpower the window lighting.
    There was someone on here who purchased a set to shoot his daughter thinking that he would have the power of strobes... it wasn't what would work for him, but sounds like it would be a perfect match for you.
  3. Do you have access to more than one studio light? I ran into a similar situation while wrestling with some interiors that included the need for window-oriented light, but in a shoot that was headed past the sunset hour. I put a strobe in a softbox outside the window, so that I could have some control over the balance between that light source and the fill in the room. This also helped with white balance issues, since the daylight (while it lasted) would have been filtered through trees, or become warmer as the late afternoon went on.

    This sort of thing would work best when the window (with the exterior strobe) isn't in the shot, but is providing part of the scene's light. The image below is just a note-taking shot for myself, to record how I had things set up for this shot (I know, that has nothing to do with people in their living room!). Just providing this set shot to perhaps stimulate some more brainstorming on your situation.
  4. If you don't really have much sunlight, I would do as Matt suggested and use strobes through the windows to emulate sunlight. You could: put diffusion in the window and a strobe head with reflector outside it, light with one head behind a 2mx2m panel inside the room and a head with reflector also inside all from the same direction to look like sunlight. The attached sample of mine is lit entirely with strobes, no daylight. It is in the middle of a showroom. I used vellum, taped to the windows and two strobe heads with reflectors to shoot through them. A third head with reflector was inside to the left set to look like streaming sunlight. Again, if you don't have much real daylight in terms of value, then strobes will work.
  5. If the room had light colored walls, I'd bounce an on camera flash backward over my shoulder, at the area of the wall just under the ceiling. Or set up another flash on a stand doing the same thing. If the room didn't have suitable walls, I'd use large umbrellas or panels.
  6. Placing a strobe outside of the window is an interesting idea I hadn't thought of. It would allow me to use lower ISO and smaller apertures but the cost of the studio flashes and soft boxes makes me first want to try something simple with my existing speedlights. I think the neutrality of the walls isn't quite perfect but if I could just bounce off them I think I could get going with minimal equipment and with some luck get good results. A panel to use with my speedlights, or even 1-2 studio flashes with soft boxes are within reach but I want to do some testing before making a big investment in new equipment. I think Matt's suggestion would result in the best image quality especially if I have several people at different distances from the camera, but on the other hand smaller equipment is easier to transport and it might work adequately.
    I like the idea of continuous lighting that one can see but many people seem to advice against hot lights. I guess one possibility would be to rent some hot lights and strobes and see how they work for me in practice.
    Thanks again everyone. This is a very helpful forum.
  7. If the walls aren't neutral I'd just hang something white on the wall and bounce flash off it. Foam core, styrofoam or a white cloth. Two 4x6 ft collapsible reflectors would also work. Put them high on the wall close to the ceiling and if you use bounce boards or reflectors you can angle them down a bit so you don't put all the light on the ceiling.
  8. I have a white lastolite background that I could bounce off in case I can't find a clean neutral part of the wall.I'll give the bounce a go. In July I'm going to NYC where I'll try to get some additional lighting gear. The family are friends of mine so I can try several approaches. ;-)
    Now that I think about bouncing, the fireplace is quite white and it has this kind of irregular surface brick if I recall correctly. This would definitely scatter light around. I guess I could put a gel to simulate the warm light of the fire ... just a little bit of this kind of light might give an interesting effect. ;-)
  9. If you do use hotlights, you will probably want to gel them in full- or half- CT Blue (#201 or #202) to match the daylight through the window better.

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