Photo Tip: Using a Window Instead of a Flash

As a special feature for readers, each month I’m sharing a tip that will help you improve your personal images. Feel free to leave a comment with a future topic you would like to see discussed!

If you are looking for a simple way to greatly improve your photographs, this is it. Turn off your flash, and use a window! All images in this post are straight from the camera, no post processing was done whatsoever. Special thanks to Jolene for modeling for me in this demonstration!

The Importance of Good Light

“Light” is one of the most important ingredients to a good photograph. Without light, there is no photograph. When a professional photographer plans for a photo shoot, often one of the first things they will think of is: How am I going to light this? Light can evoke emotion, sculpt a shape, or flatten one. Understanding light, how it works and how to control it can take years of practice and experience. There are light meters, strobes, and modifiers, oh my. Fortunately for you, that is not what this post is about. I’m going to discuss one tactic you can implement today without the need of new equipment, changing camera settings, or learning lighting ratios.

Three iPhone Photos

Camera: iPhone 4. Left: Flash on; Center: Flash off, in dark corner; Right: Flash off, moved near window

The built in flash on your camera is worthless

In addition to my professional DSLRs, I also own a compact, point-and-shoot camera for taking to parties or on wine tours. The battery on that little guy lasts for months! Simple explanation: I rarely, rarely ever use the flash on it.

Pros know, that the quickest way to improve the quality of light in an image, is to move the light source away from the lens. Ever notice how close the flash and lens are on pocket cameras? Well, when the camera is the size of a business card, there isn’t much of a choice. The proximity of the light to the lens is directly related to the occurrence of the dreaded “red eye”. Not only is red eye ugly, the light from these flashes is just not flattering for faces. Because the light is so small, it is consider a “point” source, and therefore “harsh” light. Those don’t sound like things you want for a nice flattering portrait now do they?

Did you ever go to a portrait studio and notice the large white umbrellas and boxes that the lights were inside? The goal of these objects (we call them light modifiers) is to make the light source bigger. They avoid the “point” source effect, and make the subject generally look nicer. A large modifier and a light powerful enough to fill it can be costly. Fortunately, there is a large light source right outside your window!

Compact Camera, Flash vs Window Light

Its not your camera, its your flash! Both of these images were taken with a compact camera, the Canon G10 to be exact. Left is with the flash on in a dark corner of the room. The image on the right has no flash, I just positioned the subject closer to the window.

Window Light is a Beautiful Soft Box!

The larger your window, the larger the light source. A big sliding glass door is heaven for this kind of photography. Think of the sun as your light source and the window as your diffuser. How inexpensive is that? I’d say very, unless this post tempts you to go out and replace your windows with larger ones!

A big soft box reduces, but does not eliminate shadows. Try it by having a friend of family member stand by the window, and just rotate their face toward and away from the window. You should be able to see the shadows change as they turn. You can achieve different looks by just rotating your subject. I encourage you to give this simple method a try. Then go into a room with less light, and turn on your flash. Compare the shots. Trust me, you will be convinced! Natural light is the easiest to work with, cheapest, and flattering for just about everyone. The best part, is you don’t need any fancy lighting equipment to take advantage of it!

Window Light Portrait

Camera: 50D. Both images utilize window light. Notice the difference in the shading on her face just by turning her head.


There are always limitations, and I think this one is rather obvious. You can’t use the sun as a light source if its storming outside, past sunset, or before sunrise. Sometimes, the sun is bright enough to use on a cloudy day, so experiment and you’ll start to see the amount of light you’ll need. Winter limits the amount of daylight hours for us here in New York, so take advantage of the light when you’ve got it.

This isn’t just an amateur technique either. There are many professional photographers that tout the title “Natural Light Photographer”. While natural light is incredible and beautiful, there are reasons to use artificial light as well. Like, perhaps, if you want to shoot when its dark outside, or stormy, or you don’t have big beautiful windows to position your subjects by. :)

More Resources

Scott Kelby  video demo
Article on exposing and other issues
More tips and examples

Now its your turn, go give it a try! Turn off your flash, use the light of a window, and see the difference it makes. I’d love to hear how this worked for you, so be sure to leave a comment if this helped you. Better yet, jump on over to our Facebook page and share your window light images!

2 Responses to “Photo Tip: Using a Window Instead of a Flash”

  1. Harriet Gislason says:

    Hey there! I’ve been following your weblog for some time now and finally got the courage to go ahead and give you a shout out from Huffman Tx! Just wanted to mention keep up the great work!

  2. Jolene says:

    Thanks for the info! I simply can’t believe how much better the pictures turned out when you took the photos in front of a window. I thought that the flash is what gave images good clarity. Obviously, I was wrong. Maybe now I can start taking pictures that I would actually like to hang on the wall.

Copyright © 2015 LIGHT+INK | Fairport, New York | 585.678.1905 |