Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Window on the World

Windows can be great subjects for photography. The inclusion of the frame of the window draws your viewers into the image and encourages them to place themselves in that particular scene. The camera and the window become a proxy for the viewer.

View towards the garden from a Berlin, Germany apartment.

Why Windows?

Windows are also a way of providing contrast in a photograph: between what is inside and what is outside, what is included in the view and what is excluded, etc. A warm interior can be enhanced by a hint of the winter's day outside, while a child's face at a window can contrast with those playing outside. In the image above, the plants inside and the plants outside provide an interesting contrast to each other.

Light beams through skylight windows

Windows can be important sources of light and ambiance. Here, these skylights provide the piercing beams of light that illuminate this interior room in Ajloun Castle (Qal'at ar-Rabadh) a Crusades-era fortress in Jordan.

View from the stairway of the Astronomical Tower in Prague

Windows can also provide interesting compositional shapes or frames for images. By constricting the view, they force the eye to consider the composition within the frame provided. The unusual oval shape of this window provides an interesting contrast with the straight lines and squared corners of the Tyn Church and the Old Town Square in Prague, Czech Republic.

Window used in the Second Defenestration of Prague

Windows can tell a story or belong to an important moment in history. This window entered history books in 1618 as the location of the Second Defenestration of Prague. During the uprising, the two royal governors and their scribe were thrown out the window but miraculously survived the fall. This event, however, marked the beginning of the Thirty Years War. (Yes, we have a word in English specifically to mark the throwing of people or objects out of windows! It comes from the Latin preposition de (down or down from) and fenestram (window).)

Window looking into a courtyard of Balcony House

Windows can also connect us to people in distance places or distant times. By putting ourselves in their shoes and by sharing their view, we can get a glimpse of another lifestyle or worldview. The window above overlooks a courtyard in the Ancestral Puebloan community of Balcony House at Mesa Verde National Park in southwestern Colorado. Despite the hundreds of years of time, we can image what it would be like to have lived in such a community and to have had that view.

Sometimes you are the one being watched from the window!

Don't forget that windows can also have occupants. This kitten is watching the comings and goings of the hotel guests from her perch overlooking the walkway.

Tips for Photographing Windows

It can be difficult to properly expose for a scene that includes a window. Depending on the lighting, you may have to choose whether to expose for the scene through the window or for the scene around the window. You may want to choose the spot metering option on your camera to choose a smaller area of the image to have the camera use to calculate its recommended exposure values. (See more about Exposure by reading All About Exposure and More on Exposure: how to fix common exposure problems .) Remember to use a narrow aperture (such as f/22) if you want both the foreground (the window and frame) and the background (view through the window) to be in focus.

View towards San Francisco from Alcatraz

For the window shot above, which was taken at Alcatraz prison, I wanted to highlight the view through the window of the nearby, but still unreachable, skyline of downtown San Francisco. The details of the cell itself were not as important, and the underexposed blackness further provides a contrast between the world without and the world within.

View of the Grand Tetons from Cunningham Cabin

You can also use flash or additional lighting to try and balance out the differences in lighting between the inside and outside of the window.  For this view through the window of the Cunningham Cabin out towards the Tetons, I wanted to include the details in the wood of this historic building as well as the sunset vista. I chose the shutter speed and aperture values based on the view through the window and then used the flash to briefly illuminate the cabin during the exposure.


Windows can be an endlessly interesting photographic subject. By constraining the view, they can lend an air of mystery to an image. By inviting us to look at them, they draw us as viewers into the image and allow us to make connections to the location or the occupants. They are also useful compositional tools and can provide light and drama to a scene. Next time you are feeling stuck and need some photography inspiration, try a window!

Preserved pattern of a window shutter from the Villa of the Mysteries near Pompeii, Italy
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...