Creative Solutions for Indoor Lighting: FLASH - Digital Photography School
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Creative Solutions for Indoor Lighting: FLASH

In this post Christina from Christina Nichole Photogrpahy shares a few tips on flash photography for indoor lighting.

The rainy season in full swing in many parts of the world demands photographers to retreat indoors and shoot in often low-lit settings.

Instead of producing bad pictures – or worse – not even shooting at all, practice this technique used by professional event and wedding photographers everywhere. And the best part? You can use this with any all-manual camera – whether point and shoot, dig cam, or SLR.

indoor-lighting.jpg

Dragging the Shutter

Have you ever wondered how the big time wedding and event photographers seem to have perfectly lit photographs even in dark reception venues? Wonder no longer. With a deep breath and a single flash, you too can have perfectly exposed images inside even the most dimly lit venue.

This technique is actually quite simple. Just remember these 3 steps.

1. Shoot TV priority with a Slow Shutter Speed

This is your friend. Don’t worry about blown out pictures, or a completely blackened background. When you have a slow shutter speed, you let in the ambient light from the background. (Add flash, and there is a more even exposure.)

2. Add Flash

Simply turn on your flash. Whether point and shoot or SLR, your camera will evaluate how much flash it needs to add based on your camera’s settings (and remember, we have a slow shutter speed so we don’t have to worry about blown out images!)

3. Get Creative!

This technique will work for basic snapshots, but you can also do some really fun creative things!

  • Set your subject in front of activity. The flash will freeze your subject, but the slow shutter speed will capture the movement behind them.
  • Set your subject in motion. Once again, the flash will freeze your subject, but the slow shutter speed will catch the movement around them, like this newly wed bride and groom on the dance floor.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category.

Christina N Dickson is a visionary artist and philanthropist in Portland Oregon. Her work includes wedding photography www.BrideInspired.com and leadership with www.RevMediaBlog.com.

  • Omar

    Wow, excellent writeup, short and simple. I will try it ASAP, I always wonder how do they get indoor photographs that look so nice and clear as if the venue is well lit but it is actually not.

    One thing I would like to know, how slow is slow? How slow should the shutter speed be?

  • http://edithosb.blogspot.com Sister Edith

    How “slow” is slow for the shutter speed? I’m sure some experimentation is necessary – but what would be a good starting point?

    Thanks for this tip – I’m taking informal photos for a court house wedding on Monday, my first time for a wedding.

  • Steve

    What’s TV mode? Shutter Priority mode? (Sorry, dump question).

  • Carl

    Usually 1/60 is a good starting point for most places. If available on your camera, use 2nd curtain flash yo help improve the sharpness of your main subject.

  • http://www.frombrandon.com fromBrandon

    This is something that has been on my mind this week actually! (Excellent timing, guys.) I know next to nothing about flash, so I wasn’t sure about how it corresponded to the shutter when things were set semi-automatic (like Shutter Priority).

    Thanks so much for this…I look forward to trying this out more this week.

  • Leppod

    seems to me your example pic should be an actual example of the method being espoused. F2.8 @ 1/125 is hardly a slow shutter, and Manual is not Tv mode. in addition you have a two light set-up, relatively complex and light-years from the results anybody will get “experimenting” with your suggestions here.

    get real and post a real example that uses the method being recommended. it may be “quite simple” but it will not produce results anywhere near what you suggest with that picture.

  • Alex

    I know that compact cameras don’t have this option but in SLR you can with flash set at first curtain, you will catch the subject and of course the background will appear ok.

  • http://4kidsnodog.blogspot.com corrine

    thanks for all the tips.

    question you know those links to selling stock photography on your side bar, are they all trustworthy? do you use them? do they really pay out?

  • http://tomwalshphoto.wordpress.com Tom

    Sister Edith:
    However slow you want it, really. Anywhere between 1/40 to 1 second is good. The length of the lines behind the subjects is determined by the shutter speed, while the subject will still be frozen because of the flash.
    Example: http://Achillies875.deviantart.com/art/Red-Rum-94711429
    See how the balloons are [pretty much] frozen, but their trails are blurred?

  • http://www.jplumansoc.com JP Lumansoc

    Yeah… slow shutter speeds, open aperture, high iso and flash can make for a “natural looking” picture.

    this is a poor form of advice but when I shoot a wedding indoors I’m usually at f/2.8 or faster, a shutter speed of 1/60-1/125th, ISO 800+ and flash at ETTL whatever exposure needed.

    My technique for it is shooting for ambient light then adding flash with proper exposure to properly light my subject.

    example.
    http://guydownthestret4.deviantart.com/art/Groom-and-flower-girl-97252736

    I bounced my flash to the left with +1 1/3 exposure.

    This was with a 30D 50mm f/1.4 @ 1/80th @ f/2.0 @ ISO 1000

  • Brewhaha

    Ahhh…the flash freezes the subject…I understand now. That’s a cool techniques. I’m assuming that a tripod is not necessary?

  • http://j-photo-s.blogspot.com Jonathan Shertok

    I think another big thing to add to the second point would be diffusion. I believe diffusion is what sets professionals from amateurs. The even light makes all the difference. I would recommend either bouncing the light if you have a swivel head flash or even using something as simple as tin foil to shoot the light up then let it bounce down on your subject. So, to conclude- diffusion is always necessary if you want a professional grade photograph!

  • http://www.bestdigitalcameradiscounts.com/article/understanding-white-balance-in-photography.html Understanding White Balance In Photography

    wedding photography can provide an opportunity to catch images that people will prize for a lifetime, so it can be very rewarding both for the photographer AND the bride and groom. but don’t forget to take white balancing into account, especially when you are snapping pictures of the bride and her overpowering white dress.

  • Omar

    Thanks for the reply guys, so as long as I keep the shutter 1/40 – 1 is good?

    Thanks for the example :)

  • John

    2 questions:

    Does “2nd curtain” also mean “rear curtain”?

    Is TV mode aperture or shutter priority? Didn’t see that question answered.

    I agree with the criticism that the example photo doesn’t seem to use the method espoused.

  • John

    I wiki-pediaed Tv priority. It stands for “time value” priority and therefore the equivilant is “shutter.”

  • http://www.shaolintiger.com ShaolinTiger

    Tv = Canon speak for Shutter Priority.

    Rear Curtain is the same as 2nd Curtain (there’s only 2 curtains, front and rear – 1st and 2nd).

    It’s a good method to use though, you can get all the way down to 1/3 of a second or even longer to burn in the ambient.

    I use this a lot for clubbing/party type pics.

  • http://www.michaelwarf.com Michael Warf

    Flash freezes your subject, rear curtain helps prevent ghosting? Great tip for indoor / reception type stuff – where the light is simply no fun 80% of the time.

  • http://flickr.com/xwatch_the_skyx Chris

    I would most definitely NOT recommend that for weddings, as the above picture shows.. it’s blurry and would not want that in my album. Dragging the shutter provides cool effects, but just because you are firing a flash doesn’t guarantee a crisp photo every time, or a great one.

    I would recommend playing around the manual mode on both flash and camera, hands down, and control the output of the flash based on your own experience.

  • heaterguy

    Okay, shutter priority, rear curtain, flash on. Why not manual mode with shutter set for long exposure and f/stop of choice? Only problem I see is bouncing the flash when the ceiling or wall is too far away. What about white balance? Set for flash, auto,?
    I tried this once at a wedding but the ceilings were so high I couldn’t get enough light on the subject from the flash.

  • http://NaturalimagesbyAllie.com Allie

    I have a Canon 40D…how do I make the rear curtain to be priority? Thanks

  • http://www.flickr.com/people/smenzel/ Sandro

    TV == Transvestite Priority. :)

  • http://www.jlactionshots.com JLACTIONSHOTS

    Wow Great info on using TV mode.Thank you.

  • http://www.lightingsale.com Josh

    This was really helpful. I just got a Canon Powershot A590 IS and I didn’t even know what half of the buttons meant. I’ve been mostly relying on my indoor lighting and other people’s home lighting to get good shots.

  • Tushar Joshi

    I use Canon sx10 is, whenever I use flash in indoor photography…The skintone gives slight yellow shade, what can I do for solve this?

  • azhar

    hey there, when you mean add in flash, is it referring to built-in flash or those speedlites? and i have a d5000 camera, and i thought of and plaaning to buy those cheap flashes, like the YN460. is it possible for the flash to read automatically my camera’s setting? how about the power of the flash? i dont want it to be to bright and lit up the whole picture. i want it to have a a nice lighted focus and with the background lik the normal room lighting.

  • http://www.sunshineraysphotography.com Sergio De Gregorio

    If the cealing is too high.. try the floor by turning the camera upside down..later you will rotate it on your pc by 180 degrees..! :-) Same could be said using the walls..

  • http://www.sunshineraysphotography.com Sergio De Gregorio

    and why not add a piece of paper on your flash and use it to deflect, bounce the light?

Some older comments

  • Sergio De Gregorio

    October 11, 2011 09:30 pm

    and why not add a piece of paper on your flash and use it to deflect, bounce the light?

  • Sergio De Gregorio

    October 11, 2011 09:29 pm

    If the cealing is too high.. try the floor by turning the camera upside down..later you will rotate it on your pc by 180 degrees..! :-) Same could be said using the walls..

  • azhar

    August 9, 2010 02:44 am

    hey there, when you mean add in flash, is it referring to built-in flash or those speedlites? and i have a d5000 camera, and i thought of and plaaning to buy those cheap flashes, like the YN460. is it possible for the flash to read automatically my camera's setting? how about the power of the flash? i dont want it to be to bright and lit up the whole picture. i want it to have a a nice lighted focus and with the background lik the normal room lighting.

  • Tushar Joshi

    November 20, 2009 04:10 pm

    I use Canon sx10 is, whenever I use flash in indoor photography...The skintone gives slight yellow shade, what can I do for solve this?

  • Josh

    August 7, 2009 04:45 am

    This was really helpful. I just got a Canon Powershot A590 IS and I didn't even know what half of the buttons meant. I've been mostly relying on my indoor lighting and other people's home lighting to get good shots.

  • JLACTIONSHOTS

    March 22, 2009 01:03 am

    Wow Great info on using TV mode.Thank you.

  • Sandro

    January 1, 2009 06:04 am

    TV == Transvestite Priority. :)

  • Allie

    December 31, 2008 11:10 am

    I have a Canon 40D...how do I make the rear curtain to be priority? Thanks

  • heaterguy

    December 28, 2008 11:34 pm

    Okay, shutter priority, rear curtain, flash on. Why not manual mode with shutter set for long exposure and f/stop of choice? Only problem I see is bouncing the flash when the ceiling or wall is too far away. What about white balance? Set for flash, auto,?
    I tried this once at a wedding but the ceilings were so high I couldn't get enough light on the subject from the flash.

  • Chris

    December 28, 2008 06:04 am

    I would most definitely NOT recommend that for weddings, as the above picture shows.. it's blurry and would not want that in my album. Dragging the shutter provides cool effects, but just because you are firing a flash doesn't guarantee a crisp photo every time, or a great one.

    I would recommend playing around the manual mode on both flash and camera, hands down, and control the output of the flash based on your own experience.

  • Michael Warf

    December 28, 2008 04:17 am

    Flash freezes your subject, rear curtain helps prevent ghosting? Great tip for indoor / reception type stuff - where the light is simply no fun 80% of the time.

  • ShaolinTiger

    December 27, 2008 09:57 pm

    Tv = Canon speak for Shutter Priority.

    Rear Curtain is the same as 2nd Curtain (there's only 2 curtains, front and rear - 1st and 2nd).

    It's a good method to use though, you can get all the way down to 1/3 of a second or even longer to burn in the ambient.

    I use this a lot for clubbing/party type pics.

  • John

    December 27, 2008 08:13 pm

    I wiki-pediaed Tv priority. It stands for "time value" priority and therefore the equivilant is "shutter."

  • John

    December 27, 2008 08:11 pm

    2 questions:

    Does "2nd curtain" also mean "rear curtain"?

    Is TV mode aperture or shutter priority? Didn't see that question answered.

    I agree with the criticism that the example photo doesn't seem to use the method espoused.

  • Omar

    December 27, 2008 06:10 pm

    Thanks for the reply guys, so as long as I keep the shutter 1/40 - 1 is good?

    Thanks for the example :)

  • Understanding White Balance In Photography

    December 27, 2008 05:16 pm

    wedding photography can provide an opportunity to catch images that people will prize for a lifetime, so it can be very rewarding both for the photographer AND the bride and groom. but don't forget to take white balancing into account, especially when you are snapping pictures of the bride and her overpowering white dress.

  • Jonathan Shertok

    December 27, 2008 03:03 pm

    I think another big thing to add to the second point would be diffusion. I believe diffusion is what sets professionals from amateurs. The even light makes all the difference. I would recommend either bouncing the light if you have a swivel head flash or even using something as simple as tin foil to shoot the light up then let it bounce down on your subject. So, to conclude- diffusion is always necessary if you want a professional grade photograph!

  • Brewhaha

    December 27, 2008 12:03 pm

    Ahhh...the flash freezes the subject...I understand now. That's a cool techniques. I'm assuming that a tripod is not necessary?

  • JP Lumansoc

    December 27, 2008 09:07 am

    Yeah... slow shutter speeds, open aperture, high iso and flash can make for a "natural looking" picture.

    this is a poor form of advice but when I shoot a wedding indoors I'm usually at f/2.8 or faster, a shutter speed of 1/60-1/125th, ISO 800+ and flash at ETTL whatever exposure needed.

    My technique for it is shooting for ambient light then adding flash with proper exposure to properly light my subject.

    example.
    http://guydownthestret4.deviantart.com/art/Groom-and-flower-girl-97252736

    I bounced my flash to the left with +1 1/3 exposure.

    This was with a 30D 50mm f/1.4 @ 1/80th @ f/2.0 @ ISO 1000

  • Tom

    December 27, 2008 06:26 am

    Sister Edith:
    However slow you want it, really. Anywhere between 1/40 to 1 second is good. The length of the lines behind the subjects is determined by the shutter speed, while the subject will still be frozen because of the flash.
    Example: http://Achillies875.deviantart.com/art/Red-Rum-94711429
    See how the balloons are [pretty much] frozen, but their trails are blurred?

  • corrine

    December 27, 2008 06:25 am

    thanks for all the tips.

    question you know those links to selling stock photography on your side bar, are they all trustworthy? do you use them? do they really pay out?

  • Alex

    December 27, 2008 05:47 am

    I know that compact cameras don't have this option but in SLR you can with flash set at first curtain, you will catch the subject and of course the background will appear ok.

  • Leppod

    December 27, 2008 05:42 am

    seems to me your example pic should be an actual example of the method being espoused. F2.8 @ 1/125 is hardly a slow shutter, and Manual is not Tv mode. in addition you have a two light set-up, relatively complex and light-years from the results anybody will get "experimenting" with your suggestions here.

    get real and post a real example that uses the method being recommended. it may be "quite simple" but it will not produce results anywhere near what you suggest with that picture.

  • fromBrandon

    December 27, 2008 04:21 am

    This is something that has been on my mind this week actually! (Excellent timing, guys.) I know next to nothing about flash, so I wasn't sure about how it corresponded to the shutter when things were set semi-automatic (like Shutter Priority).

    Thanks so much for this...I look forward to trying this out more this week.

  • Carl

    December 27, 2008 03:40 am

    Usually 1/60 is a good starting point for most places. If available on your camera, use 2nd curtain flash yo help improve the sharpness of your main subject.

  • Steve

    December 27, 2008 03:37 am

    What's TV mode? Shutter Priority mode? (Sorry, dump question).

  • Sister Edith

    December 27, 2008 03:27 am

    How "slow" is slow for the shutter speed? I'm sure some experimentation is necessary - but what would be a good starting point?

    Thanks for this tip - I'm taking informal photos for a court house wedding on Monday, my first time for a wedding.

  • Omar

    December 27, 2008 02:53 am

    Wow, excellent writeup, short and simple. I will try it ASAP, I always wonder how do they get indoor photographs that look so nice and clear as if the venue is well lit but it is actually not.

    One thing I would like to know, how slow is slow? How slow should the shutter speed be?

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