Between low light, shadows and cramped spaces, indoor photography is a tricky skill to master. But it’s a rewarding one. It’ll refine your creative practice and help you become accustomed to the more technical features of your camera. Plus, it’s the perfect challenge for a rainy day, quiet Sunday or, as it turns out, national quarantine period. So, how do you master this challenge? Here are our 10 tips to help you get started.
Know your camera
This might go without saying, but familiarity with your essential tools is key to getting the most out of your images when shooting indoors.
You should feel confident with your camera’s manual mode – so setting ISO limits, aperture settings, brightness, focal length, white balance and flash settings. If you’re not, indoor photography presents a great opportunity for trial and error. Learn and experiment!
Indoor photography presents many unique challenges but knowing your camera inside out is the first step to overcoming them.
Learn how each room responds to light
It’s more than likely that any given room in your home will only have one natural light source. You need to know when each room is going to be at its brightest, or when you’re likely to get the best moody shadows.
Add outside obstructions to light or weather conditions into the mix, as well as indoor factors like reflective surfaces and colour, and a room will look totally different throughout the day.
Figure out which direction your rooms are facing, so you can predict when they’ll get the light. If the room you want to shoot is East facing, light will shine through the window in the morning and the golden hour will be around sunset. If the room is West facing, it’ll get the light it in the afternoon, with the golden hour again being around sunset.
North and South are a bit trickier, but you could end up with some interesting ambient lighting effects. Take time to discover what your rooms are doing while you’re not looking. It might yield some amazing results.
Manually correct white balance
Most indoor photographs contain combinations of natural light and artificial light, which can wreak havoc on your camera’s automatic shooting setting.
If this happens, don’t try and brute-force the lighting situation. The automatic setting on your camera will likely struggle to handle the competing lighting types, so you’re going to need to make some tweaks yourself.
White balance changes the temperature of an image and ensures you get accurate colours which aren’t too hot (orange-red) or cold (blue).
Cameras often come with multiple white balance pre-sets for different shooting conditions, but if none of yours are suitable you can set it manually. For most DSLRs, this typically means taking a photo of a white object in the conditions you wish to shoot and using it to create a white balance calibration for those conditions.
Lightstalking provides a handy guide to adjusting white balance here.
Experiment with high ISO settings
Given that indoor photography often means low light conditions, ISO comes into play when preparing to shoot.
ISO stands for International Standards Organisation, which is the governing body that standardises sensitivity rantings for camera sensors. High ISO increases the sharpness of your photographs in low-light situations – but a common side effect is image noise. The art, then, is in finding a balance.
High quality, high ISO photographs used to be unattainable, except in really expensive cameras. Today, though, most consumer DSLRs can handle shooting at ISO 1600 and accomplish really nice results.
Keeping your ISO between 200 and 800 will likely give you the best results. To figure out which ISO you prefer for the room you’re in, take some calibration shots and then repeat the process if you shoot at a different time of day or with different lighting.
Even if you increase the ISO further, you might find the grainy effect adds to the mood of the photograph, so experimenting is key.
Adapt your shutter speed
As you might’ve gathered by now, indoor photography often involves adapting for low light conditions. Shutter speed is arguably the most influential factor in this, as it controls the amount of light gathered by the camera and dictates the exposure level of your photograph.
A fast shutter speed lets in minimal light, while a longer shutter speed allows more in. However, it’s a balancing act as you don’t want an underexposed or overexposed photo. For this reason, you should try a few test shots in the room you want to photograph, to see which speed yields the best results. To begin with, we recommend starting in the 1/60 of a second to 1/200 of a second zone.
Use a tripod
Tripods don’t just give you perfect composition to the millimetre. They also have one understated virtue when it comes to indoor photography – helping to reduce noise
Given the low-light conditions you’re likely to experience when shooting inside, a tripod will allow you to use a slower shutter speed than if you were shooting by hand. Any shutter speed slower than about 1/15 of a second will likely result in poorly defined, near-blurry lines – even for those of us with the steadiest shooting hands.
With a tripod, however, the image will remain crisp with slower shutter speeds, meaning you can keep the ISO lower. In turn, you can reduce the amount of digital noise in your photograph while retaining exposure.
Use a wide-angle lens
As indoor photography lacks the vast expanse of outdoor photography, the shot you want can be logistically tricky, even if the light behaves.
There’s nothing like standing in the corner of a room, clutching your viewfinder to your face and trying to fit everything in frame. So, if you have one, it’s time to whip out the wide-angle lens. At the very least, you should switch to the wider version of your standard lens.
Luckily, you probably have what you need already. Most DSLRs come with a standard 18-55mm lens which covers all bases in a pinch. However, if you can’t quite achieve what you’d like from your lens, some clever use of mirrors can be a nice artistic compromise to capturing everything in a room when your view is limited.
Most of what you shoot indoors will have shadows draped all over them. This is particularly the case if there’s only one light source in the room. In a nutshell, you need to get used to shadows.
The good news is shadows can provide some atmospheric and dramatic details. For instance, window blinds casting a shadow on somebody’s face, or a long silhouette of a cat sat on the windowsill at sunset. Work with the shadows, instead of against them. They’re arguably one of the primary subjects of indoor photography.
Create DIY equipment
The Covid-19 quarantine procedures don’t exactly give ample opportunity to pop to your local photography shop and pick up a reflector. Non-essential Amazon deliveries can take up to 14 days to arrive at the time of writing. To adapt to this strange period, you’re going to need to get creative.
As we’ve explained, shadows are rampant within indoor photography. Whilst you can use these to your advantage, sometimes you just want to shoot something lovely and bright. Reflectors are designed for this, but if you don’t have one you can use a white bed sheet, kitchen foil or whiteboard. The possibilities are virtually endless.
For more DIY photography hacks, check out Expert Photography’s article here.
Whether you’re trying to capture a living, breathing room or a carefully curated vision of that room, everything within the frame is a part of the photo.
Indoor photography, in comparison to most outdoor photography, gives you the power to alter your subject. So, consider whether anything in the frame doesn’t serve that photo, or distracts from it. A dog toy, muddy running shoes, or a certain unsightly tabloid newspaper, maybe. Composition is everything with indoor photography, as there are so many straight lines, be it furniture, window frames, floorboards or brickwork, so keep that in mind.
If you prefer to shoot with an integrity to real life, or to embrace chance elements, remember that you still decide where to point the camera. The same lesson applies – keep an eye out for any crafty objects undermining your shot.
There you have it! Some tips to get started on your indoor photography. Maybe try giving it a go while we’re on lockdown? Remember to tag us in your Instagram pictures so we can see the results too.