Natural Light Studio

Natural Light Studio

Yep, we've got a boat-load of lighting gear and grip. Strobes, apple boxes, reflectors, grids and a partrige in a pear tree. We also have fantastic window light with a southern exposure. We get a bit of direct sun that varies by time of day as well as time of year. Never make the mistake that somehow strobes means control and ambient window light is some sort of pretty one-trick pony.


Windows Are Not A One-Trick Pony

If you have the room (which we do) window light is amazingly controllable in terms of direction, lighting ratio, and overall look. Given the arrangement of the windows in the Baltimore space, the lighting looks are virtually even without bringing any other lights to the table. Last year I experimented with a lot of different looks using only our fantastic windows from dark and moody to crazy bright and sunny. All of the looks can be had on just about any given day. Consider this the first of a series of "how-to" posts demonstrating how you might want to use the Baltimore Studio space sans complicated gear to achieve the look you're after.


Our Ambient Light Is Crazy Flexible

For our first installment I thought we'd go for super high-key with a twist.

Yep, crazy high-key whites on whites with enough exposure to possibly damage my camera. What's the twist? Well... typically images that are this high-key are flat lighting from the front to allow exposure levels to render whites white. Higher lighting ratios don't render a high-key feel, they leave shadows dark. Typically if you want light with more dimension coming from more from the side as seen here with the semi-rembrandt pattern you'll need extreme control over the ratio of shadow to highlight.

As an exercise I wanted to see if I could get all of the lighter tones rendering above the three-quarter mark (everything in the highlight regions), a rimlight on both sides of the face, and a white background all up there using only ambient conditions of the Baltimore Studio Space. How? Simple; I just moved Mary around until I had the ratios and lighting angles I wanted for this experiment. I did use exactly one piece of gear, a 4 x 8 reflector to camera right but not for the purpose of fill or to bring the shadow side up. Instead I used it for the subtle rim light seen on the shadow side of Mary's face.

Break Down

Lighting Control

  • Subject Postion: About ten feet away from our large white wall positioned in between two windows.
  • Controlling the angle of the main light was just an exercise of moving toward or away from the camera.
  • Controlling the ratio was a matter of how far we positioned Mary from the windows.
  • Left side rim light via the window behind Mary closet to the wall in the background.
  • Right side rim light on the face via reflector behind Mary to the right angled to catch the light and throw it back at a similar angle to the rim light on the other side.

Gear/Settings Used

  • 50mm Prime on a full-frame camera
  • Silver sided reflector that was laying around.
  • One C-stand.
  • Out of focus white wall in background.
  • 1/250s f/4 @ ISO 800 (wasn't a particularly bright day.


  • Lazy don't give a crap mode of Lightroom 5
  • Specifically a one-click white balance off a random point on the white wall.
  • One click preset via VSCO Film 06 400H+1 hence the funky tints. If you've ever used VSCO Film 06 you already know how crazy the contrast it dials in is and may have an idea about how much control over the lighting ratio is required for that particular preset rendered at this level of exposure.
  • Umm, embarrasingly that's it. No local adjustments, no messing about, no skin smoothing, nothin' low lighting ratios and high key treatments makes skin look great anyway.

Stay tuned for a bunch more how-to kind of posts related to ideas on using the Baltimore Studio Space with or without lighting gear.

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Post by Atomic Canary

Creativity + Community + Studio