We see professional portrait photography on a daily bases. Advertisements in magazines or online. I remember the frustration when I first attempted to take a good portrait and it was nowhere near as good as I had hoped.
The more you learn about photography, the more you realize that learning how to control light is what separates amateur photography from professional shots.
Grab a magazine and flip to the first advertisement that has a person in it. Look at the eyes. See how they are in razor sharp focus? See that little white sparkle in their eyes? That’s called a catch light. Almost every professional portrait is shot so that the model has catch light in the eyes. If you look close you can even start to determine what the light source was. Studio soft box, big natural window light, sometimes you can even make out that the photographer used multiple light sources or reflectors.
You don’t need professional studio strobes or soft boxes to light up the eyes. All it takes is to be mindful of what the light is doing and then position your subject so that light is bouncing off of their eyes. Some of my most favorite portraits are lit with the subject sitting or standing next to a large window. This might be the simplest way to get that really soft natural light in your photographs.
Photographer Sean Archer is a master at this technique. He lights each subject by placing them near a window in the attic of his house.
Try your own window lit photograph. Pay attention to how the light changes as you position your subject differently in relation to the light source. What happens to the shape of the catch light in the eyes as the subject rotates or gets closer to or farther from the source? Experiment and have fun!