Always Be Prepared For Portraits; Carry Your Window Light In A Box
Monte Zucker
• Posted July 1, 2005

The sun will come out tomorrow...or even tonight if you need it! Yes, you can now have your window light wherever and whenever you need it. You can turn it on 24/7! Plus, you can move the window from one side to the other if you want to turn your subject's face in the opposite direction. It's all about some new lighting being produced by Westcott (800-886-1689; It's basically a softbox with five fluorescent tubes in it. The light is constant, not a flash. (No more anticipating the flash by "blinkers!") The bottom-line effect is that you have lighting that is as close to window light as I've ever seen. Actually, it's even better. So, if you're in love with the light that you've been getting through windows, you're going to flip over these--just like I did!

I'm using them in conjunction with a new background that I had designed for me. I had it made with two changeable fabrics. One is a white background that you can tone down to various shades of gray by how much light you have on it in relation to the light on your subject. The companion background is painted a deeper shade of gray. It can be anywhere from medium dark gray to solid black. You can also color it with just about any gel. The material is practically weightless. It's wrinkle-free, because it stretches on a portable frame that is also almost weightless. Talk about a winning combination! Wow! The backgrounds are available from Superlite Custom Backdrops (516-746-0818;

The background support system is available from On Location Support Systems (414-481-2128).

Here are some of the recent portraits that I've created by using two of these lights, side by side in sort of a V-like configuration. I'm using them approximately 4-5 ft from my subjects, just as I used window light in the past. One of the beautiful things about using these lights is that if you're shooting Aperture Priority it really doesn't matter if the subject is a little closer or farther away from the lights. My camera (Canon EOS 20D) figures the exposure out for me automatically, so I no longer have to worry about the distance my lights are from my subjects. I'm also using my regular Westcott Monte Illuminator (silver on one side/black on the other) to help open up the shadows.

The only drawback that I've found is that when you're photographing "antsy" children you're not going to be able to freeze the action as you do when shooting strobe. Still, if you've been happy with window light in the past, and have been concerned about how much light you're going to get at a given time of day, you're going to love these lights. They are constant color temperature and constant power. Of course, you need to custom white balance before you shoot; it's the only way to get consistent color.

Westcott has patented these lights under the name of Spiderlite. Since I got so excited over them and have begun to use them as a pair they've even packaged a "Monte Window Light Kit" which includes the two lights, the Monte Illuminator, two light stands, and 10 fluorescent bulbs--all in a convenient carrying case. For more detailed information, contact your Westcott dealer.

As a little side note, I have not stopped using my Photogenic portrait lighting setup. I've just replaced my window light portraits with these Spiderlites.

Here's The Setup From these three images you can see exactly how I'm using these two lights. It's like having two windows side by side and placing your subjects in between them. The front light is your main light and establishes the lighting pattern. I usually light one half of the face with the backlight, keeping it high so that it also acts as a hairlight and a kicker light. It's angled to throw a little light at the background, too.

Although Westcott packages the softboxes with both an inner and an outer fabric in front of the lights, I use only the outer material. I feel that with both fabrics in place the lighting becomes too soft.

Light + Reflector
If you're good at capturing children with available light, then you'll be great with these lights. You can use the reflector to either open up the shadows as I've done here, or below the face as you've seen me do in the past. (You don't want dark shadows when you're photographing light clothes against a light background.)

In both the little girl's picture and these two images I've let the background go a little deeper by bringing it back out of the light.

With the white background catching just a little more light you can change it to a brighter white.
Dramatic Results, Easy
Using the exact same lighting technique of lighting half of the face with the backlight and my normal lighting pattern with the front light, you can create extraordinary specular highlights on the edge of the cheek and the bridge of the nose simply by moving the camera position to see the 2/3 view of the face.

Notice, too, that because the lights are brighter than normal modeling lights with strobes, the black of the subjects' eyes contract and you see the color of the eyes much better than ever before.

The only difference in this shot (far left) is that I photographed her from the full-face camera position. It's pretty remarkable how much the lighting seems to change simply by changing the camera position from full face to 2/3.