Shooting Window Light Without a Window: Nathan Elson's 'How I Got the Shot'

YouTube and photography blogs seem to be all stocked up with quick BTS videos these days. We see photographers swinging lights around and talking about post, but I don’t think we see enough of their thought processes. Here, with Nathan Elson, we get a little bit of everything.

In his most recent version of "How I Got the Shot," Elson is replicating window light without a window. Using the StrobePro Optical Snoot, Elson creates the shadow lines and feel of a typical industrial window frame. I love how Elson shares a little information on stacking the filters to get a unique look with just the right amount of contrast and drama.

Throughout the short video, Elson takes his time to explain his camera settings, post-processing settings, and intentions.

BTS for setting and positioning.

In terms of Elson's editing workflow, he provides a link to his free dodge and burn action. There are, of course, a thousand ways to skin a cat, but Elson’s process is worth looking into. It certainly helps to even out skin tones while managing to keep texture intact.

Elson's post processing workflow from Capture One on.

Don’t forget to hold on until the end for a surprise appearance of Elson’s YouTube doppelganger.

Mark Dunsmuir's picture

Mark is a Toronto based commercial photographer and world traveller who gave up the glamorous life of big law to take pictures for a living.

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Na na, nana na - light - light is light....

Nothing wrong here, you just reminded of this song Life is Life from the Australian band

Although the lighting set up and technique are impressive and interesting to learn, the final results image is ruined by the hard shadows - on the wall, on the right side of of the model's nose, on her body. As a solution, if she would sit further away from the wall, you would have avoided it.

I don't get what you mean. The entire point of the exercise was to mimic window light without an actual window. If you get rid of the hard shadows on the wall and on the nose and on the body and you sit her further away from the wall then that's just soft studio lighting? How would that mimic window light?

We are talking about different things. If mimicking window light means introducing hard shadows and killing aesthetics of the image, what is the point of doing it? It would be a great exercise if the final results would still be aesthetically pleasing. Sorry but the truth is that on this particular image, the hard shadows (especially the one on the wall on the right side) are ugly and ruin the image.

The "point of it" is to mimic window light without a window, which can be useful for a commercial photographer who has a client needing to look like it was shot a room with a window. By using studio lighting you eliminate the variables you would have to balance if you used real window light.

Imagine telling a client that they you can't deliver on the brief because you have a different opinion on what is and isn't "aesthetically pleasing." Imagine telling a client that "no we can't make it look like they are sitting next to a window because the shadow from the window frame looks ugly and ruins the image."

There is nothing wrong about honestly telling a client what you can and cannot do. Our job is to find a technical solution. If I see that the solution offered here impacts on the final results and quality of the image (which may also be the view of the client, especially if the client is looking for aesthetics and quality), there is nothing wrong about informing the client about consequences, and finding a BETTER solution which would allow to meet the client's requirements and deliver the best quality possible without compromising it.

But one technically CAN do what the client has asked us to do. They want a photo of a person that looks like it was lit by a window: so why is it objectively better to shoot something that looks like it was shot in a studio? That literally DOESN'T meet the client's requirements. You can't meet the client's requirements if the result you produce doesn't fit the brief.

And "best quality" is the wrong term to be using here. "Best" implies that an aesthetic can be objectively measured but it can't. Soft shadows are not objectively better than hard shadows nor vice versa. Each has their place.

If I can't meet the client's requirements then I would honestly let the client know so (sometimes we don't have experience or equipment which would allow us to meet the clients' requirements), to set expectations, or I would try and find a solution which would allow me to meet their requirement. If I know that the end results would not be of expected high quality (as is the case here), I would honestly let the client know, meaning there will be several options: a) turning the job down (yes, you will lose a job or a client, but if you are so desperate to take the job without being sure that you will deliver the expected results then you are taking a reputational risk which can ruin your reputation and / or business), b) delegating the job to another photographer who has the ability of meeting the requirements; c) offering an alternative solution to the client and making sure it is acceptable. "Best quality" is never the "wrong" term. Clients do not care what is subjective or objective, they hire you to produce and deliver results. I feel that you are trying to pick me on every single word, and I do not have more time for arguing. You have your opinion, I have mine, and having different views and opinion is totally fine. All the best.

Yep. I am trying to pick on every word. Words matter. And clients opinions are subjective, and your opinions are subjective and my opinion is subjective and stating that these images are "not expected high quality" is nothing but your personal opinion, one that I (and almost everyone else that has posted here in the thread) have disagreed with. They ARE high quality images in my opinion. "Best quality" infers that we can objectively measure that quality, so what are those measures?

Please go find someone to fight with somewhere else. We live in difficult times, I understand, and hope that you will find something that will make you feel kinder and less aggressive. As I said, having different opinions is totally fine and normal. Not a reason to start a fight. All the best.

There is no need to make it personal. Different opinions ARE fine. That's actually the point that I made from the outset. You did more than express an opinion: you treated your opinion as some sort of objective fact.

Hard shadows is common in fashion and other genres. Not everyone and everything is allergic to them.

There are many things which are "common". The fact is that hard shadows kill aesthetics of photos, and in most cases show lack of photographers' experience of working with light, or lack of feeling of aesthetics. You do not have to agree with my opinion, of course:)

The fact is your "fact" is just your opinion, which does not make it fact. Sorry to have to break it to 'ya. :P

Eye of the beholder, no?

The optical snoot is getting a lot of airtime ATM.Someone in a studio that size should be using something bigger and more flexible .I bought an optical snoot but its just too limited in reality unless your shooting at very high ISOs, I also have Mini Spot and full Zoom Spots , much bigger optics and way more useable

I shot these images at ISO 100

Yes bang wide open?

Given the depth of field you can see when Nathan is editing, I doubt it was shot wide open. I wonder if you’d see what Nathan shot it at if you watched the shooting or post processing parts of the video? Maybe if you zoomed into the Capture One info?