Photography is often about problem solving and discovering how to overcome obstacles. Solving these problems isn’t always simple or easy, but it’s rewarding when you find a solution.
One struggle that often arises for beginners is the challenge of shooting indoors. Many of my students ask me why they can’t seem to get a decent shot inside, even when their skills outdoors are improving rapidly. I put it down to two things – light and perception.
Indoors, we’re contained by four (or more) walls, and a ceiling – all of which block out light. Of course, this results in a darker environment where we have to work a little harder to obtain a correct exposure.
We’re also somewhat conditioned to think that a beautiful picture needs a stunning natural location, with golden afternoon light, in order to be ‘good.’ But you can capture fantastic images indoors too – it just takes a little practice.
Let’s get into some of the problems that arise with shooting indoors, and find out how to overcome them.
Problem: Light (Indoors Can Be Dark)
One of the greatest challenges of indoor photography is often getting enough light for a decent exposure. Walls and doors block natural light, which makes for a darker environment. While our eyes adjust naturally to this, our cameras do not, so we have to adjust our settings accordingly to compensate for this drop in light.
Solution: Choose Your Location Wisely
The first thing to consider when shooting indoors is where you’re going to shoot. Try to find an area with as much natural light as possible. Turning on the electrical lights may seem like the obvious solution, but this type of light can often be unflattering, or give strange colour casts or weird shadows to your images. Natural light is neutral and beautiful, and doesn’t look artificial.
To get as much natural light in your shot as possible, try to position your subject near a large window rather than in the centre of a room, like in the photos below.
Image by Tammy J
If there are no adequate windows, try opening a door and shooting your subject near the door. Time of day will also affect the quality and quantity of the light, so experiment at different times!
Solution: Raise Your ISO
Sometimes, getting enough light into your camera is as simple as raising your ISO. Your ISO is a measure of your camera’s sensitivity to light, so raising it allows you to capture an image in a darker environment. Be careful not to raise it too high, as this will introduce digital noise into your image. Try to find a balance, and remember that the type of sensor in your camera will also influence the final image (for example full frame cameras with larger sensors handle low-light better than others).
Solution: Try A Tripod
We know that using a tripod is essential for night photography, but it’s also useful when photographing indoors. Tripods allow you to use slower shutter speeds, which helps to get more light into your camera’s sensor. If you’re taking still life images, using a tripod will help immensely with indoor photography, as your exposure can be minutes long. When shooting people, however, we cannot get them to hold still for such a length of time; however a tripod can help to reduce camera shake, which could give you an extra half or full stop of exposure.
Solution: Use A Reflector
Bouncing light back into your subject with a reflector can make all the difference to an indoor photograph. This is true for both still life and portrait imagery. Every bit of light will help, and reflecting light back into the shadows of your subject will not only lift the exposure, but make your subject “pop” a little more. The closer the reflector is to the subject, the stronger the effect will be. You don’t have to go out and buy a special reflector – any white or silver sheet will do. Try white cardboard or polystyrene for a softer result, or some silver foil glued onto a bit of cardboard for a harder effect.
Solution: Add Light With Flash
If there’s still not enough light, one solution is to add more! Using your on-camera flash often produces less than desirable results because the pop-up flash is very small, and right above the lens, so it produces a hard, direct light. You can modify it by using tissue paper, a coffee filter or other materials (which won’t be affected by heat) to alter the appearance of the light so it’s softer and less harsh.
Alternatively, invest in a Speedlight, which can be bounced off the ceiling, walls or other objects in the room. Learn more about using flash in an upcoming article.
Problem: Perception (Shooting Indoors Is Boring/Ugly)
It’s easy to believe that a beautiful image can only be captured outdoors in a stunning natural landscape, with beautiful golden light at 5pm, but this is not so! You can capture gorgeous portraits and engaging still life images inside, such as the image below – it takes a little more care and consideration.
Image by Frédérique Lemieux
Solution: Change Your White Balance
When shooting indoors, the importance of using the correct white balance becomes crucial, because of the varying colour temperatures of different light sources. Sometimes, indoor light sources are enough to alter your perception of an image. If you’ve ever taken a shot inside that has come out very yellow, you’ll understand the effect of an incorrect white balance setting – it can look terrible!
It’s better to choose a white balance setting that’s appropriate for the scene, or use custom white balance. A good test is to take a shot indoors, then alter the white balance using editing software. You’ll notice that your image will look far more appealing when the white balance is correct!
Solution: Remove Clutter
There tends to be more background distractions indoors, so when shooting in your home, office or any other location where people live or work in the room, make sure to pay extra attention to what’s in the frame. Choose clutter-free, simple backgrounds where possible, or get to work creating your own backdrops (made of fabric), like in the images below.
Image by Siobhan McMinn
Don’t be afraid to move furniture or rearrange objects to create a tidier environment. Clutter, cords and wires are the biggest offenders – so tidy up piles of books or paperwork and hide TV and computer cords away from the camera’s eye.
I’ve often totally wiped client’s desks clean when shooting in office environments, which removes any background distractions – just make sure to put it all back for them when you’re done! Also watch out for anything crooked, such as wonky picture frames or tea towels hanging messily; these things might not be so noticeable while shooting, but when they appear in your pictures they’ll stick out! When you take a shot indoors, take the time to review it properly and see if your eye is drawn to anything distracting.
Why You Should Shoot Indoors
Shooting indoors does pose some additional challenges in comparison to working outside, but it actually has some hidden advantages – namely, the weather. Outside, photographers are at the mercy of wind, rain, sun, heat and cold, but inside we have a little more control, which often means we can shoot longer, and better refine our shots.
We also have more control over our backgrounds, because we can move objects or furniture (whereas in nature, we can’t go uprooting trees just because they are distracting). Finally, having a ceiling can be useful for bouncing flash, which we cannot bounce from open sky!
So with the winter months just around the corner, why not practice your indoor photography skills at home in the comfort of your ugg boots?