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Natural Light Photography

Lesson 2 of 7

Rotate Into Window Light

Sue Bryce

Natural Light Photography

Sue Bryce

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Lesson Info

2. Rotate Into Window Light
Start with a simple, flat and flattering side light. Then, rotate the background into the window light 45 degrees for dimensional, soft light. Shoot with the subject directly across from the window for additional variation. Besides just rotating the background, learn how to rotate the subject into the light for beautiful light without a reflector.

Lesson Info

Rotate Into Window Light

Alright, let's rotate into the window light so now you've got that nail down, any questions? We've got any questions there? Is everyone cool with that? Am I being too basic? No. 'Cause I'm tryna be 101, 'cause if its like 101, let's go back to basics so I'm tryna be basic. Okay John let's get this out, Danielle step forward, pull that out. I wanna show you just a little rotation, so this is a really good thing to even out light across the face but its also really good when you don't have enough light, okay? So let's say you're suffering and ISO's gone up, here's a couple of questions I always get asked. How high would you shoot your ISO? I will go as high as I need to to get the shot. So use 1600, if I have to I will do that. Okay, so I brought in a background and the first thing I'm gonna do is, you come around John, is I'm gonna leave it right there, okay? So it's angled towards the window light, okay? Its not side on, although, let's do it. Let's imagine that you don't have the ...

ability to turn. Let's say you're shooting in a cubby hole and you only have a side on. Let's try, let's go completely side on, yeah. Let's say this is your only option. Danielle come and stand in the front and center. I've lost that tether again, sorry. Let's, not a good system. Alright, let's have a look at her and of course the light's coming from the side even though she's back from the light source, it's gonna sweep over her face, it's not gonna be a hard sidelight but it's certainly not gonna be a really nice flattering beauty light. Alright, let's bring in a big, V-flat reflector. Now the big V-flat's such a good reflective source it's gonna pick up all the light from that window, bounce it in, it's gonna give me a beautiful, even. Come in a little bit more John, and a little bit more, that's it, now towards me just a tickle, that's the one, stop. Now, let's lit her up like a Christmas tree. Check this out. Chin down. Chin up. And I didn't change my settings 'cause I just want you to see the difference between the two. So that's sidelight and I'm still getting a beautiful flat dish, I'm getting a flat wash, straight across. Now, okay, a lot of people are like "what's with the flat light?". Okay. Most of the people I photograph are over and I've yet to meet a woman that wants shadow on her face. Now I do not retouch bags and wrinkles, I remove the shadows underneath them. Okay? I do not remove bags and wrinkles, I remove the shadows underneath them. So if I have a good reflector and good open, soft, beautiful light, I don't get shadows under bags and wrinkles. It minimizes, its beautiful, it works for me. It is my personal choice. It might not be yours and my mom taught me when I was a teenager that you have to let every soul walk it's own path. So I'm just gonna accept that about you and not judge that you might not like my way. Alright? Okay. Now lets imagine that was our sidelight and that's still beautiful light by the way, look at it, for crying out loud, she looks incredible. Let's bring this around, let's take it away 'cause I don't want to block everybody, let's take it away. Let's rotate the backdrop towards the light, if you can go back to my keynote, who do I have? Do I have Niko? Come around, come around. Sorry. Its Niko? Stop. Its John Oh it's John. Oh John, ain't he? Yeah. Sorry John. Alright. So basic right, you don't think? And isn't it weird you would walk into studio and there'd be a backdrop like this up against a window? But if we go back to my keynote, John wake up. (laughing) He's awake. Okay, this here, side on to the light with a big reflector, which is what I just showed you. It's highly doable, so it works. Alright now, she's here, big reflector there, look at that light! Hello, I just, I see it. You know what, here's the thing. When you're a photographer and you've got a lot going on; you've gotta please this client, take great photographs, you've gotta pose them, you've gotta worry about everything, you've gotta look at your camera settings, you gotta look at your light, and you've got poor light, or you've got a poor situation, I've set up my studio so well that the control that I have, I have a light and course posing, 'cause it's my jam, that to me this where I look at a client and I get this, I don't get the pain of "oh crap this is not working", I get this overwhelming joy of being a photographer. Like I'm hittin' the button and my whole soul is just on fire 'cause I'm making images for this woman that is making me excited to be a photographer. I've been doing that for 26 years. The thrill is still there and when I have good light situations and you're just banging them out and you know that you feel good, you're enjoying your client, you walk out of that shoot and you just know that you have the best job on earth. Okay, now look at the rotation, top left screen, not the rotation of the pose, although I'll do that for you. The rotation of the backdrop. Now, it changes a lot so let's bring Danielle in and I'll show you a good and a bad example of it. Is there any questions? Nobody's asking me any questions. So you're covering the questions. Okay, as long as I am. People are asking, they had asked about the flat light, they had asked about how you get the hair light around in the. Did they ask to why I'm wearing such a pretty dress? (laughs) They absolutely have commented on how fabulous you look. I didn't mean to, I ran out of clothes because I got on that bus tour and then I didn't have, I've only got my going out clothes and so I got dressed this morning I was like "we'll look a bit fancy", (laughing) for Creative Live, for a shoot. So Sue, the exact question that had come in and had gotten some votes from FriendedJ was "how does Sue get the separation with black on black background using only window light?". The separation 'cause its not black. Its kind of a gray, the light hits it and it almost has quite a little a luminous sort of texture in it and it really hits light beautifully. And when the light does hit it, also remember I tend to shoot a little not high key but definitely over my mid range. But when I shoot on the black, I tend to shoot just under the mid range because the meter on the camera reads the light is hitting her face but when you've got a black background and you've got a white face, especially Tesa, 'cause she's very white skinned, and Danielle and I are browner so we kind of blend in a little bit more, like our exposure will definitely go up instead of down. Hers goes right up because it gets confused by how light her face is versus how black the background is, even though its not black and so it reads it, its needing the exposure to go up. So it actually reads it, it actually shoots it over exposed so I just look at the back of the Cannon, I trust my camera, I knock it down two stops, I take another shot, I look at the back of my camera and on my way so technically I'm shooting at one to two stops lower, to allow for the reading on black on white. Same difference in the back light in the opposite way. I shoot two stops over in the back light because there's all this white light and the meter is reading the client but the meter's like "hang on, there's not enough light", and it instantly underexposes it because its seeing all this white light and going "oh, too much light, too much light", and that's what its doing. I'll actually show you because I feel like showing you is way better than telling you how that works when we go to the back light. Okay, now, if Danielle stands here with no reflector, take a step away from me, that's it, perfect. And I've got my back against the window just like I do in this shot here, which is my studio, okay, I'm actually, this makes me gasp. Okay, I'm gonna show you this, this makes me gasp. She's turned towards the light, it's gold and glowing, even though that screen is a little cold, you're not gonna see exactly what people in here are seeing, but this light, this angle of light, watch this, it makes my heart sing. And when I see it, I'm just like, I see this light and she's got no reflectors, oh, look at that. I just love that, like that's the light I love so much. I just, my world is just symbiotically in a perfect state of creation in this moment and now I just need to photograph this woman, you know, like I just have to take photographs because that to me is gorgeous light. Do you like it? Yeah, its cool? Good light? Okay. Like I care. (laughs) Joking. I just rave on about it so much I sound like such an idiot but it doesn't matter to me, I know my clients don't care, and I just know that photographers get really excited about light or maybe they don't but maybe I get really excited about light but that just excites the hell out of me. So have a look at a rotation and a pose if you go back to my keynote. John turn that way, and I want you to push your shoulder forward, drop your right hand, that's it, just give me a little bit of shoulder Danielle, I'm gonna take your hair off there and I'm going to just clean that up a little bit, you've got two choices. You can either show the hair off the shoulder and define the shoulder and then give me a tip forward, good girl, and then looking over your shoulder at me, there lips together just a touch. Rotate back, you've gone just a little, stop, you've got it. There it is, right there. And then just a beautiful rotation into the light but remembering I am on a 50mm lens, I am back against the window, but I'm just showing you a short shooting space. I could move her back a good two or three meters and shoot the whole scene, I'm just showing you a short version because you're like "well there's not many options that close up, is there?", 'cause there's not. You know, ultimately my options, turn towards me Danielle. Ultimately my options this close, even at the 50, push your chin forward, is even, now not too far forward Danielle, chin up just a tickle, good girl, is just a sort of magazine cover to the bottom hips so that's as far as I'm gonna get, this close, but that to me is, that's the magazine cover. Like once I put a bit of air in that hair I just nailed my cover shot and my cover shot, to me, is the shot that she's gonna flip over because that is the one that I love. Now I have a lot of, million rotations and posing that I can do in this area but I can't pull back further than that in this situation. Okay, let's just discuss that if, for any reason, you have very small shooting space and you don't have the option to shoot lower than the hips, I would say very few women want a photograph of their full body, however, you do want to at least be able to get to, take a step over here, so even on my 50mm, you do wanna at least be able to get that, don't push your chin forward too far, no, don't, that's it, chin up a touch, good girl, drop your shoulder on the right hand side, keep your elbow bent though 'cause I really like it. Okay chin down, half, stop. Okay so what I'm actually doing here is just showing you to pull back, I can actually get down to her knees so I do have a range there, I definitely have a range of motion. It would probably not work very well for me if I had a family in this studio because if I had two or three people, two would be okay, but three, four and I would be pushing the backdrop back. Okay I'm at 640 ISO, I could shoot it at 800, I could shoot it at 1000, I could shoot it at 1200, 1600, so I'm sure one step back is not gonna make a lot of difference. One you know your studio space, you know the time that you get your sweetest light, I wanna shoot once a day and in my early days I shot two to three portraits a day in my studio six days a week. I don't know why, I just needed to kill myself doing it and now I'm one a day. I wouldn't do more than one a day, I wanna spend more time, three hours instead of one and a half, I want to take more time, I have a higher sale, and I have doubled the average that I had back then. So it works for me to take more time to get double the average sale but that's what happens when you are an older photographer 'cause when you're new and young, you tend to shoot faster and frantically and you take more images whereas I try not to shoot over in a full shoot, over 100 images 'cause I only wanna show 25, so if I shoot over 100 I'm making it really hard on myself, okay, to choose. Can we go back to the keynote? Okay, from here, rotating around to the window, yes I do get asked, John, let's take it parallel to the window and take it back just because people ask all the time, go and stand there Danielle, two things people ask me is "aren't you blocking the light?", technically I'm smaller than the light source but I am wearing black so I'm gonna be a negative draw but the light source is bigger than me so if its a small light source and you're gonna stand between the model, its not really gonna work, remembering that this huge light source is as big as this huge window is huge but can you shoot directly opposite the window and the next question I get is "what will the catch light look like?", it does look a little bit snaky because I'm a black line with two white reflectors on either side, so you just have to either Photoshop it or make sure its not too dark but does it change the way she's photographed on this backdrop? You decide, I still think its absolutely beautiful and if I needed the light and I needed it to be even, absolutely. Notice we haven't brought in a reflector for the last three shots 'cause we don't need to 'cause we're rotating her towards the light, which is ideal, look at that! All that color and the light palate just makes me so excited, so excited. Don't worry I get really excited over stripes now too these days, its a funny world.

Class Description


  • Manipulate available light to create a flattering light source
  • Eliminate harsh shadows using simple accessories
  • Create multiple types of light from a single window
  • Capture beautiful outdoor portraits whether it's a sunny day or cloudy day
  • Work with direct light, directional light, and backlight
  • Professionally light portraits using free natural light and inexpensive modifiers
  • Create your own inexpensive lighting tools


Sometimes, the best light in photography is free. In this 90-minute class, learn how to manipulate ambient lighting into studio-like lighting conditions. From window light to working outdoors, learn to harness available light to create a variety of styles, from soft, flattering portraits to dramatic directional light. Go behind-the-scenes of a live natural light shoot with artist Sue Bryce to bounce light, bend light, soften light, and create drama with intense light.

While natural light is beautiful, it's also affordable. Work with inexpensive accessories like $35 V-flats and a $15 homemade scrim to turn a single window into several lighting patterns using different techniques. Discover how to use modifiers to turn bad light into the kind of light that flatters anyone. Then in the final lesson, learn how to replicate natural light with studio lighting gear for beautiful light at any time.


  • Beginning photographers eager to learn simple lighting
  • Intermediate photographers ready to expand lighting skills
  • Photographers struggling to manipulate natural light


Portrait artist Sue Bryce built a career on using natural light. Her lighting style helps create contemporary, fashion-inspired portraiture without expensive studio gear. Awarded the Portrait Photographer of the Year -- twice -- Sue is a master portrait photographer specializing in a style of portraiture that helps women recognize their own beauty.


AnnaGeo Jump

Such an amazing way to use natural light and get great results. Sue you have an artistic and practical way to see everything around you, and this course opens our minds to endless possibilities around us that can help us to achieve the most beautiful results with natural light and simple materials. Thank you as always!

Noel Guevara

Fantastic course! I got this for $29 and it's the most bang-for-the-buck purchase I've made here in creative live. Sue is undoubtedly an expert, and I love her no-fuss, direct method of teaching. Her lighting hacks are also great tips. At first I was apprehensive because of reviews of her course with Felix Kunze, where she was described as overpowering and defensive, but after seeing this I now understand her background, and learned that she actually has great respect for Felix. Buy it. You'll learn a lot about natural light in one go.

Kelly Cas

definitely good for a beginner who doesn't yet have the time or money to invest in expensive equipment. i love her sharp personality and she is clearly passionate about what she does, infusing the whole atmosphere with fun