Shoot Clearly Through a Window

Shoot Clearly Through a Window

When shooting through a window, images are often blurred or overexposed. But they don't need to be.

Sunlight provides great natural light. But when you point your camera toward a window during the day, you'll notice the view outside is blurry and possibly even blown out. By covering the windows you are shooting toward with a neutral density (ND) gel, you can capture sharp images outside the window while keeping your subject in focus.

Gels are not cheap, considering they are small sheets of colored plastic. Small sheets (21" x 24"), primarily used to affect lights, can be purchased for $5–$10 from most photography or film supply stores, such as Film Tools ( or B&H Photo ( Larger rolls (4' x 25') can cost anywhere between $100 and $200. Fortunately, gels are fairly durable, when not abused, and can last a long time.

When covering a window, you should place the gel inside the window. In addition to keeping the gel free of debris, you will easily be able to make quick adjustments, should the need arise. Figure shows a neutral density gel in a standard 21" x 24" sheet.

A standard size sheet of neutral density gel

Depending on the physical aspects of the window, you might be able to clip the gel to hold it in place [Hack #25]. If you can't clip your gel, you can resort to taping your gel in place. You should consider using a special adhesive tape made by Permacel, commonly called gaffer tape or camera tape (depending on the width). What makes gaffer tape special is that it doesn't leave a sticky residue when it's removed. This is especially important when you're shooting in a location that you're "borrowing," because you probably want cause the least amount of damage possible.

After placing your gel, you can go ahead and shoot your scene with a clear view of the outside world. Figure shows a window half-covered with an ND gel to demonstrate the difference realized by using a gel.

Shooting through a window using a neutral density gel

Although your viewers will never notice the gel or the difference it has made (because they have nothing to compare it to), you will have made a difference in their experience of your scene.

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