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Video: How to Photograph and Edit a Window Light Portrait

In this article/video, I’m going to show you how to photograph and edit a portrait session using natural light from a window. Windows can provide stunning light that you can use to capture beautiful portraits just about anywhere with just a camera, lens, and any background you can find, whether it’s a wall, bedsheet, or simple backdrop.

Our model today is my friend, Chelsea, and for this tutorial, I’ll be using the Canon EOS R6 with the Rokinon 85mm f/1.4 Lens for Canon RF. Before we begin, be sure to download the exercise files and follow long as I edit the image in Adobe Lightroom.

Getting the Shot

window light portrait tutorial scene setup

My goal for this shot is to emphasize the textures, particularly the texture of Chelsea’s sweater which can be emphasized by the directional light coming from the large window to the right which is diffused by the curtains. If your window doesn’t have curtains, you can use simple white bedsheets to diffuse the light.

window light portrait tutorial adding backdrop
A backdrop adds additional texture to the image.

Next, I wanted to bring in a different background. If you don’t have a dark background in your home or wherever you decide to photograph your model, you’ll want to have a backdrop with you. While the dark wall in the studio isn’t bad, I’ll be using my custom backdrop from Backdrops by Ethan Alex. Keep in mind that you can use anything as a backdrop such as a reflector or bedsheets.

window light portrait tutorial backdrop before after

You’ll notice that just changing the background can change the entire look of the image.

How to Fix a Color Cast

You’ll notice a slight green color cast that’s being caused by a slight tint in the window. If you ever encounter a slight color cast from your window, you can easily fix it in post-production if you’re capturing RAW, but most cameras allow you to make tweaks to the white balance to compensate for subtle shifts in color like we see here.

window light portrait tutorial color cast fix

By shifting the white balance to the reds/magentas, I was able to cancel out the green cast created by the window.

window light portrait tutorial color cast before after

Adding Fill Light

I noticed that the shadows on Chelsea were a little too deep so I used a reflector to open up the shadows. These reflectors often come with two sides, one silver and one white, and I decided to use the silver side since the window light was already soft and the white side wouldn’t have reflected enough light.

window light portrait tutorial reflector position
The position of the reflector changes the shape of the fill.

Depending on the position of the reflector, the shape and intensity of the fill light will be different. By placing the reflector behind, you’ll create a rim effect, and by bringing the reflector forward, you’ll cast more light onto your subject’s face.

window light portrait tutorial before after
Adding the backdrop and fill can dramatically improve an image.

Just by adding a background as well as fill light, the entire mood and look of the image changed. Keep photographing your subject until you get a shot that you like, and take the image into post production.

Post Production

window light portrait tutorial post production

I’ll be starting with the image I captured before adding fill. Here, I’ll demonstrate how you can fix the white balance in post-production if you forget to or don’t get a chance to adjust the white balance on location. All you have to do is bring up the White Balance Dropper by pressing “W” and click a neutral point in the image such as the highlights in the eyes.

window light portrait tutorial white balance dropper
The whites of Chelsea’s eyes are a great neutral point.

You can also use another method to correct color tints which I use quite often for scenes with complex lighting. You can try this method like this:

window light portrait tutorial color cast fix 2

  1. Drag the color temperature down until the skin appears neutral.
  2. Any green/magenta tint becomes easily noticeable.
  3. Adjust the tint slider until any tint is eliminated or until the skin shows a subtle pink hue.
  4. Bring the color temperature back up until the skin looks correctly balanced.

To edit the tones of the image, I’ll be using a technique similar to that of “Dark Mode (refer other video)” from the VF Presets Retouching Toolkit. This technique is great when the background is dark and the skin tones are the highlights in the image.

Related Reading: How to Edit Using “Dark Mode” Technique in Lightroom

First, I lower the exposure a touch and I control the brightness of the skin tones using Highlights, bring back shadow detail using the Shadows slider, and pull Blacks up by a lot to raise even more shadow detail. Lastly, I’ll use the White slider to control the brightest highlights.

window light portrait tutorial dark mode settings

This initial technique is designed to open up as much detail in the image as possible before making all the adjustments and adding back the right amount of contrast. After lowering clarity just a tad, I used the Color Grading panel to add warmth into the highlights. I cooled the skin tones using the midtones and added back the warm in the highlights. The final settings are below.

window light portrait tutorial color grading

I noticed that the light from the window left Chelsea’s forehead a little dark. To correct this, I used the Dodge tool from the Visual Flow Retouching Toolkit, and evened out the exposure on Chelsea’s face.

window light portrait tutorial dodge
Lightly apply the settings to even out the tones on the face.

Lastly, I added a radial burn to draw the eyes to Chelsea.

window light portrait tutorial radial burn

Before & After

window light portrait tutorial final before after


I hope this article/video helps you create your own portraits using natural window light that’s available just about anywhere. You don’t always need to have complex setups or expensive gear to create stunning portraits. For more editing tools you can use to further enhance your photographs, be sure to check out Visual Flow Retouching Toolkit as well as more tutorials available on our Premium Subscription where you can learn how to take photographs with minimal tools in Creative Photography 101, and much more!

Be sure to catch our next episode of Mastering Your Craft on Adorama’s YouTube channel next week! If you want to catch up on all the episodes, make sure you check out our playlist!