One thing I know lots of new photographers struggle with is taking photos indoors.
Indoors, there’s much less light than outside, and since light is key for photography (photography means ‘drawing with light’), that can be a problem.
But there are ways to work with the light you have to take images indoors, so you don’t need to hang up your camera just because you’re inside.
Things to Avoid When Photographing Indoors
Firstly, when shooting indoors, here are a few things to avoid.
🚫 Don’t turn on the overhead light.
It may seem like it makes sense to add more light, but the light from your overhead bulb is not going to cut it.
- Firstly, as it’s coming down directly from above, it creates unflattering shadows
- The light temperature is different from natural light, so it will give your images an unpleasant yellow glow
- Compared to natural light, it’s not that powerful so it will probably not be enough light.
🚫 Don’t turn on your on camera flash
Seriously! Avoid your on camera flash wherever possible. The position of the flash means it’s almost impossible to get a good picture using your flash, even if you’re using a diffuser.
- Your flash is too bright and will startle your subjects and create a pinprick of light in their pupils, which is far less flattering than an ordinary catch light.
- The direct light will flatten the features on your subject and create dark shadows behind them
How to Use Natural Light Indoors
Instead, make use of the natural light indoors.
Light has a funny quirk, it’s called the inverse square law of light (don’t worry, you don’t need to know the technical details). It’ just means that as you move away from a light source, the light falls away quickly.
This means that indoors, as you move away from the window, you’ll lose a lot of light quickly. Just moving a few feet away from the window will make a big difference to the amount of light available.
So stay close to a light source such as a door or large window.
I moved my daughters table to the window so that I would have enough light to capture her play.
Use Windows for Composition
As well as letting in light, windows are great for composition. Use the repeating patterns on multiple panes of glass to your advantage.
Maximise the Available Light
If there’s not enough light in your home, maximise it by pulling back curtains as far as they will go and make sure windows are clean. You’ll be surprised at the different it makes.
The light in your home will be effected by how it’s decorated. In my home the walls are mainly white or cream, which reflects the light. If you’re home is painted with darker colours there will be less light available, but more opportunities for dramatic lighting.
Make the Most of Directional Light
One thing I love about indoor light is that it’s directional, which means you have one light source coming from one direction. This can create interesting shadows in your images, and works well with black and white images.
I love the light in this image of my daughter at her grandparents house. The light it coming from the left and the rest of the image in in shadow.
Look for Pockets of Light
Even if you’re not lucky enough to live in a light filled home, there are always pockets of light. Take time to learn the light in your own home and find the best spots, and pay attention to how it changes throughout the day
In the image above, we were staying in a cottage. The windows were small and the rooms were dark, but the early morning sun shining through a little window created a beautiful pocket of light.
Face the Window
Have your subject face window to get plenty of light on their face and big catch lights in their eyes. Plus, because the light drops off, the background of your images will be dark and any distractions behind them will be less noticeable.
Use the Golden Hour Indoors
If you have west facing windows, you can use the golden hour, even if you are indoors. When the sun is lower in the sky, it will stream through your windows, allowing you to create beautiful backlighting.
Camera Settings for Indoor Photography
There’s less light indoors, so adjust your settings to maximise the available light. Use a wide aperture, ideally F4 or lower. If you have a prime lens that opens wider, e.g. 1.8, make the use of this to allow in extra light. At wide apertures you may find not all your image is in focus, if you find this, increase your F number slightly to increase the depth of field.
Your shutter speed may need to be lower than you’d like to let in more light. Start at around 1/200 and increase it or decrease it from there. If it’s too dark and you need to decrease it, only do so to around 1/100. Any lower and motion blur will become a big problem.
If your shutter speed needs to be low, it’s best to photograph children being less active, as much movement such as running and jumping will be blurry at low shutter speeds.
Finally, your ISO. Increase your ISO to lighten your images. Some cameras have massive ISO ranges, up to 25,000, whereas some only extend to 1600. Whatever your range. it’s best not to push it to the maximum as your images will become too noisy.
Try to keep your aperture in the mid range for your camera. This will cause some noise, but not enough to ruin an image.
Don’t be afraid of a little noise, it’s often unavoidable in low light photography. If you find your image is too noisy, try this:
- Don’t underexpose your image, it will only lead to ,more noise when you increase the exposure in post processing. It’s better to use a correct exposure, even if it means increasing your ISO.
- Use Lightroom to reduce noise, it has a powerful noise reduction tool that handles mid to low noise levels very well
- If you find your image is still too noisy, convert it to black and white, as black and white noise looks more like grain and is more pleasing than colour noise