High Contrast Window Light

High Contrast Window Light

Using Silver Bounce to Fill High Contrast Windowlight

High Contrast Light can be some of the most intimidating and difficult scenarios to shoot. Especially on a winter day, with the hard, unmodified sunlight pouring directly into the studio.

Arriving unmodified by clouds or window dressings, the sunlight produces hard shadows with sharp edges. You can tell that you have this type of light when it traces the outline of the windows throughout the room.


'More often than not, you hear photographers say "I dont like hard light"

I am the opposite. Hard, unmodified light will not surprise.
You know exactly what you are getting: even light with no falloff.
What else produces that? Every single bare strobe, speedlight or constant light source.'

The only thing that changes this light into the "soft light" that we, as photographers, say we love: modifiers. softboxes, beauty dishes, umbrellas, these are all instruments that simply bend, shape, and pass light.

So the question is: Why WOULDN'T you want to start with hard windowlight if you can turn it into anything you want?


In the image above, a single, but carefuly aimed, silver bounce provides the fill. The silver bounce was 4 foot x 8 foot large. There have been multiple cases where I have chosen to incorporate 2, even 3 smaller silver bounces.

I chose silver in this case particularly because it is a bright, punchy, focused light.

A white bounce, provides, soft, flat, everywhere fill. The "soft" part of that is what doesn't work for me in this case. The white bounce is just not enough fill, to bring the shadows and darker areas up to a where I want, leaving highlights looking blown out and the rest of it washed out or muddy. I chose this particular image because it REALLY pushes the highlights, nearly losing them completely in some areas.

But the counterpoint is that even though the highlights are being pushed, she is illuminated, completely, and the details and tones in her skin have been preserved.


In the image above, I use a lace curtain as a modifier on the light source (window) that backlights my subject. Do not be mistaken, I am shooting DIRECTLY into the sun. You can see the flare on the right side of the image.

I am using only one, large (4'x8') silver bounce on the model Jean Taylor, and the hotspot that it produces is aimed at her from the waist up.

The hotspot that a silver bounce produces is a a more focused, punchier light than a white bounce, which produces a softer, more even, everywhere light. The silver is ideal because the look of hard, punchy light matches the windowlight we are getting this particular day.


In the behind the scenes image above, from a workshop with Neesy Rizzo, You can see another scenario where I added a white lace curtain to the lighting setup. This not only stops down the amount of light hitting our subject, but it also casts a pattern onto her.

The goal is to bounce in enough light to preserve those highlights, but still be able to see the rest of her.

So I brought in a 42" silver bounce disc. Even with such a focused bounce, it is large enough to illuminate all of her from the waist up.


In the final image of this blog post you can see that the fine details of the highlights coming through the lace have been preserved. While they are still very bright highlights, we are not totally losing the detail of her skin where they fall. In this case, the silver bounce illuminates Jean Taylor. The bounce brings the left side of her face very close in exposure to the right side of her face (excluding the highlights), almost erasing the high contrast light, again except for the highlights.

What I think is great about this lighting setup:

You can see SHADOW, MIDTONES AND HIGHLIGHTS just in her skin alone

You can also see all three in the lace, and the unimportant remaining details of the rest of the image. To be able to create that type of dynamic range with just a window and a bounce, on a digital camera.... You can't beat it in my opinion.

Now, of course you can do amazing things in lightroom, pull highlights back (kinda), raise the shadows, but all that stuff produces noise! Why not just do it all in camera? The images in this post have only had their white balance adjusted.

Give me hard, unmodified light as a starting point any day.

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Atomic Joshua image
Post by Atomic Joshua

Photographer + Filmmaker turned studio owner.