Mastering Indoor Photography
Winter is coming and you know what that means... lots of opportunity for indoor photos. Now that statement makes me want to jump for joy, but I know for many of you hearing that may sound like a big bummer and be a bit intimidating.
So to ease your troubles, today I want to share with you some of the things that I do to capture my everyday INDOORS with ease. I’ll start off with a few basic tips and then I’ll dive into some not so obvious ones. My favorite part about all of this is that no matter what you use to take photos, these tips apply to everyone. So, let’s get started.
1. TURN OFF YOUR FLASH
Okay, the first thing I want you to do is to take out your camera and turn off your flash (this goes for your camera phone too). Go ahead look up how to do it in your manual or google it. I’ll wait. It’s worth the wait, trust me.
Your pop up flash that your camera comes with is not helping your photos at all. It is only washing them out. It can make your subject shinny looking, and give them those horrible red eyes. It can add color cast to your photos and give you weird looking shadows. I could go on and on. You really should never be using your camera’s flash unless you absolutely have zero light. And even then I would argue maybe not even taking a photo at all. Can you tell I can’t stand camera flashes?
Let me give you an example. Here are two photos taken back in 2014. One when I first got my DSLR camera and had no idea how to use it. And then another photo I took 3 months later after I started to learn about photography and light. The image on the left was taken with a flash at Max’s first birthday party. The photo on the right was taken without the flash. I was only using natural light to take that photo.
Now, I know the photo on the right isn’t award winning, but come on…it looks way better don’t you think? Do you see what I’m talking about here?
I’m not saying all flashes are bad. Some professional ones are amazing and can create beautiful natural looking light when needed. I’m talking about using a built in camera flash for your every day photos. If the sun is up at any time during the hours of 6:30 am - 9 pm at your home, use that natural light to take a photo, not the camera flash. Just sayin’.
2. USE MANUAL MODE
That’s right, get your camera out of automatic and take control of it. In the past this only applied to DSLR cameras, but now-a-days third party mobile apps, like VSCO and Lightroom, allow you to do this with your phone’s camera too. Holla!
With indoor photography, controlling how much light is let into your camera is KEY. Having your camera in automatic is going to stop you from doing this and can really hurt the look of your photos. You see, when your camera is in auto it is going to adjust it’s settings as it sees fit, which means sometimes darkening a photo when you are hoping for more light. Or maybe causing blur when your child is jumping around. But sliding that bad boy into manual mode will stop this from happening. You will be able to adjust your camera’s settings as you see fit; aperture, shutter speed, ISO. You will now be able to allow more light to come in when you need it, or less when you have too much.
Automatic is good to have when your are new to photography and are still learning how to switch back and forth between settings. Let’s face it, you don’t want to miss out on a great moment to capture because your taking your sweet time trying to adjust everything. However, once you have practiced enough and understand it all, you should put that camera in Manual and never look back.
3. USING NATURAL LIGHT
Okay, now I want you to turn off all of the artificial light in the room and take a step back (this has to be done in the day time). Look for the natural light coming into your room. You may have a ton, or you may have a very small amount. Regardless, it doesn’t matter how much as long as you have some.
One of the best sources of natural light indoors are windows. Learn how to use them to your advantage. In general, the closer you are to the window, the more light you will have to use and work with. Where you place your subject in relation to the window light will affect the image dramatically. For example, so many people aren’t aware that if you just simply turn your subject towards the natural light, your photo and subject will look dramatically different. Check out the difference with this iPhone photo below. The photo on the left my subject is facing the window. On the right, he is turned around with the window light behind him.
Window light is EVERYTHING with indoor photography. Here are three different scenarios for using window light:
Sidelight: Here the subject is parallel or at a slight angle, to the window. Depending on the time of day and amount of light, this may yield images that have more contrast. You also will find your subject to have more depth and dimension. Almost as if they are popping out of the photo at you.
Backlit: Here the subject is sitting with their back to the window facing the photographer. Or they may be facing the window, but you are behind them. Using window light like this can turn out beautiful, but you have to make sure you do it correctly; otherwise, you’ll get a photo that looks like the iPhone photo of my son above where the window light is behind him. To avoid this, you want to make sure you meter for the subject and blowout the highlights to properly expose the image for the person. The other option is to expose for the highlights, as in the window and get an indoor silhouette. In some instances, you may need some sort of reflector to add light back to your subjects face.
Front lit: Here the subject is directly facing the window, you are between the window and your subject. This type of lighting position produces the most even light of all the three.
Now, for all of these scenarios it is very important that you never place your subject in direct light or hot spots like this:
This just causes a whole lot of problems I’m sure I don’t even have to mention. You can just see for yourself.
4. SET WHITE BALANCE
This is a must when you take that camera out of the box, especially if you plan on using it indoors. And again, you can also set the white balance on your phone with third party apps that let you control the phone’s camera manually.
I have always used AUTO WHITE BALANCE when taking my photos and find that it does a perfectly good job. Yes, I do from time to time have to make adjustments when editing my photos, but it’s not a lot and nothing that bothers me. Some other photographer prefer to set their white balance themselves using an expodisc, a grey card, or Kelvin (with DSLR cameras). There are tons of videos explaining and demonstrating how to do this on Youtube, so have at it.
If you do choose to use your cameras preset white balance selections, I recommend auto as it will save your camera from having to guess which lighting situation you are in at the time. This will give you a good starting point and like I said above, it usually does a pretty great job. Keep in mind though, you will probably have to do some adjusting from time to time.