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When you Google about photographing indoors, one of the most unmistakable feelings you come away with is that you can’t do it with your existing equipment. Kit lenses aren’t ‘fast’, they don’t shoot in a wide open f/1.4, you don’t have a big external flash. All of these things can leave you feeling helpless to take great photos indoors. The catch with kids is that they move fast so a slow shutter speed isn’t always an option. Or maybe it is? Here are my 5 top tips for photographing children indoors using your existing equipment:
If you do find yourself wanting to explore other lenses, many photographers have had great luck with the ‘nifty fifty’ 50mm f/1.8. It costs less than $100 and is a fun place to start exploring with wide open apertures.
November 3, 2012 10:53 am
I am considering getting the 50mm f/1.8- was wondering if you get motion blur when hand held in low light, since it does not have image stabilisation.
if any one has any examples of low light shots with the 50mm, id appreciate.
June 21, 2011 11:43 am
Using a 70-200mm f2.8 is a superb lens for any Family shots - lets you keep the distance, shoot wide open and captures great light!
June 19, 2011 05:24 pm
I have a 580 flash but sometimes I need light NOW and the only available extra light is the pop-up. I find that if I 1) lower the flash intensity (-ve flash compentation) 2) Get as close to the subject as practical (taking desired perspective and DOF into account) and 3) use the camera in portrate position so the light is more from the side due to being close I can get a some what pleasing shadow and less flat look that pop-ups are known for.
June 19, 2011 05:56 am
An old photographer once told me that using your on-board flash is ok with a simple cheap/free defused solution from the 35mm film era.
Go to a shop that still develops 35mm film and ask them for a used film roll canister that is white (not black). Cut a slit in the side after taking the cap off and slide it over your popped up flash.
Some of the more advanced digital camera's also have build in flash control that you can use to take a stop or more on or of the flash power. Very useful for fill flash even with the film roll canister on it.
p.s. I to got me a Metzz external flash unit for the more distant stuff or to bounce of some surface with my 7D and XSI
June 19, 2011 03:49 am
Sorry incompetance on my part failed to show pictures above.
WHITE BALANCE: 5 methods to avoid that orange/yellow colour cast.
1: find WB in your camera menu even compacts have this and try tungsten or flourescent during daylight it might be worth trying cloud ( Panasonic FZ30 also allowed you to move a slider to change between a blue to a red colour cast).
2:Read the manual for your camera it may tell you how to do a preset white balance. You will need to alter this for different times of day and light sources.
3:Shoot in RAW and fix the white balance on the computer all of the conversion programs I have seen allow for batch conversion which will save time.
If the advice above came too late then try the following. I am currently looking back through old xmas photo's 2003-7 that I liked but didnt print due to horrible colour balance and or exposure to see if I any can be rescued. (Colour balancing should be done on calibrated monitors however to my mind it is worth getting a few test photos printed when ordering the known good shots). [tip: having edited your photo if you use an online printer use text to add the settings used on the different test shots]
4: I am using GIMP2.6.11(which is freeware) FILE then select a picture to OPEN and as this is an experiment at the top of the screen click on COLORS and find LEVELS above the histogram is a box marked channels click on this and look at the histograms for red, green and blue. The hills on the red channel will be further to the right (I am pressuming you have got a strong yellow orange colour cast).
Under the histogram there are three triangles move the central one slightly to the left changing the number in the box to about 1.15 do this for the green and blue channels then click ok. (this also slightly brightens the picture).
Another method is COLORS then COLOR BALANCE through experiment I have found that the following settings work well for photos taken at my sisters house in the evening.
Shadows--Cyan/Red to -35, Highlights--Magenta/Green to 5, Yellow/Blue to 10, Midtones--Yellow/Blue to 13.
5:Convert to Black and White.
June 19, 2011 03:38 am
I bought a lightscoop last year and I love it, I bought the warming one which works really great for my family. We are all incredibly light skinned and it gives us a subtle warmed coloring making photos of us look more natural than looking freaky.
June 18, 2011 11:54 pm
Thanks for the advice, I found article very understandable. I agree with your views on indoor photography, and as "scottc" said, white balance is a big problem for me. I often find myself with useless photo.
June 18, 2011 12:25 pm
Thank you for sharing such great information with your readers. I always get something from you every week & appreciate the details on shutter speed indoors.
June 18, 2011 12:21 am
"And this grain can be shocking at 100%, but don’t pixel peep. Try printing some photos taken at really high ISOs and see how they look."
June 17, 2011 11:44 pm
The problem I usually have with my nifty fifty is that I'm too close. 50mm on a APS-C is far from what you usually consider 'zoomed out'. After grabbing a few nice close portait shots, I often find myself shuffling backwards and bumping into walls and furniture all the time when trying to capture what the kids are actually doing.
June 17, 2011 08:47 pm
For those on the very cheap side of amateur DSLR photography, do a google search for "The Party Bouncer" or "business card flash bouncer". I am sure there are more web pages too about making a simple pop-up flash disperser for a whopping 0!
June 17, 2011 08:09 pm
Some interesting ideas - here's another...
I saw a similar article and was looking to buy a lightscoop - so cheap, I thought! After some advice from other friends, I didn't. The lightscoop is what, £20 or more? The white business card I used instead cost less than a penny and cutting the two slots to fix it onto the pop-up flash took about 30 seconds.
It really does make a difference to the quality of on-board flash photos.
June 17, 2011 07:54 pm
One more tip......, if your chosen camera settings look a bit dull and drab, consider using Exposure Compensation rather than say further increasing ISO. Dial in a +1.0 EV setting, it may just make your image pop!
June 17, 2011 11:27 am
From my full auto days 1/4sec no flash pictures 4 & 6 out of a 8 shot burst. These are the originals shame about the hankie.
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[eimg url='P1490232smJPG' title='P1490232smJPG']
June 17, 2011 11:05 am
some very good points. I often wondered how ppl get such great photos of kids when the lighting is bound to be poor. This is why I like wildlife - it's out doors so I almost always have good light.
June 17, 2011 10:00 am
Excellent advice for any level photographer with any camera.
June 17, 2011 09:53 am
I avoid using the flash because all my family wear glasses and even if I had a flash unit that could be bounced off the ceiling I dont think it would be long before the flashing started to irritate. So I use the shoot lots method, setting the camera to continuous a burst of about ten shots will normally get a keeper even at 1/30 sec and I have in my earlier ignorance when I used auto got good shots at 1/4sec with a panasonic FZ30. The anti shake is good enough when the camera is rested on an arm of a chair. The added bonus is that no one is aware that I am taking pictures.
I bought a Nikon D5000 to take photos at my sons wedding. Because I knew light levels would be very low at the church and at the reception I tested the highest settings and boosted EV to its maximum and was surprised that provided a face filled the frame noise was not a problem for a 6x4 print , and at 1600 a face would be ok if it filled 1/4 of the frame.
June 17, 2011 05:59 am
Never heard of lightscoop, will have to look into that as a stop gap until I get a flashfun
June 17, 2011 05:49 am
I apologize for the typos in my post above. I'm on my phone and fat-fingered it.
For reference, I dropped about $100 into that flash, and am glad I did.
June 17, 2011 05:47 am
Thanks for the article. I love these simple articles that are full of practical advice and are easy to follow.
June 17, 2011 05:46 am
I currently spend my free rim chasing a two-year-old around the house. What has been very useful for me is a shoe mount flash. I know--heresy! But year me out. I have the generic version of the speedlite 480. It allows me to aim the flash to produce a softer, more diffuse light than the pop-up, and moves the light source several inches away from the lens.
There's no substitute for good natural light, but I'm not going to put myself through numerous circumlocutions just to be flash-free.
June 17, 2011 05:03 am
I always love your articles, Elizabeth. Full of great advice.
I've learned quite a few tricks myself now that I have a 1-year old running around. As she grows I've had to adjust and learn new tricks as she becomes more and more mobile. For instance, once she started to crawl and cruise, standing up alongside a chair was so helpful to keep her "contained." :) Now that she's walking I'm learning new tricks. I happened to just talk about this today on my blog:
June 17, 2011 04:53 am
I don't photograph Children as a subject, but I agree with the interior lighting aspects of this article. ISO is very overlooked, higher ISOs are not the taboo they were just a few years ago.
I find the hardest challenge indoors to be white balance!
June 17, 2011 04:26 am
I recently photographed my newborn niece for some special pics. Unfortunately it was night time and good lighting was hard to come by so I thought "Hey this is a great chance to use my new 50 mm lens!" Even with the aperture wide open and ISO turned up the pictures turned out a little blurry (not to mention the white balance was off). But what I really kick myself about is that I had a light scoop sitting in my camera bag the whole time. I was so caught up in the moment (newbie nerves) that I forgot that I had other options.
Hard to remember all this stuff when your in the moment...I'm sure it gets easier with experience. But reading over articles like this - and the comments of more experienced photographers - really helps!
June 17, 2011 04:25 am
I believe the diffuser is a step in the right direction, but a shoe mount flash, that can be bounced off the wall/ceiling, should be in everyone's kit.
June 17, 2011 03:45 am
I go back and forth between an 85mm f/1.8 and a 35mm f/1.8. I love a shallow DOF, but I find with kids, who are wiggly, sometimes I miss getting the image tack sharp exactly where I want it. Your suggestions of upping ISO and sometimes using a slower shutter speed work for me:
And here's one taking advantage of window light - I passed this little one a magazine so she'd stay occupied in one place for a minute:
June 17, 2011 03:09 am
As someone who teaches weekly DSLR photography lessons to people who predominantly have entry level DSLRs with kit lenses, I always find it a challenge when they ask how they can photograph indoors. All of the above tips in this post are good, but I recommend to people that the next two things to add to their camera bags are an external flash and a 50mm lens.
One thing I noticed that was not mentioned that is also very important is white balance. Since it was suggested a lamp be used, to avoid orange looked images (or blue, etc.) the correct white balance needs to be set (assuming not shooting in RAW).
The video was very good for showing how to remove lens distortion, something I look for more and more myself in my own shots. I put up a text only tutorial with an extreme example of distortion when photographing a fireplace headon:
June 17, 2011 03:09 am
Sorry, above link is broken! This one work and directs you to a Facebook Albumn of an indoor Family Shoot with the described setup.
June 17, 2011 03:05 am
Shooting indoors is always challenging using available light. I like to take a minimum of a off camera flash, stand, umbrellla, diffuser as basic portable gear to help overcome this. When possible I bring two AC Alien Bee setups for ultimate flexibility. Perferred lens would be 70-200 f2.8, but have gotten away with kit lenses. This is where it really pays to have off camera lighting.
here are some examples: http://www.facebook.com/home.php#!/media/set/?set=a.191768747534309.45774.134644323246752
June 17, 2011 02:54 am
This is very true! Thank for the write-up. I'd like to reveal a little secret to you guys.
I shoot car photography for my website http://CustomPinoyRides.com.
A lot of times, I have to shoot indoors during events like car shows, where sometimes, the light isn't soo good that it's almost impossible to go handheld with a kit lens if you don't have a flash.
But believe it or not, I shoot using my kit lens. Why? Because I don't have a fast lens. And the cheap 50mm f1.8 is too long for car shows. I need 18-55mm. Besides, I need f3.5-5.6 for the diagonal shots, else the rear of the car starts to be part of the bokeh. I don't wan that. So I just live with what I have. But I still manage to shoot at no higher than ISO 200, and 80% of the time without flash. What's my secret? A TRIPOD.
I don't care if the other photographers during car shows think I'm silly for lugging along my tripod. It gets the work done, quite well actually.
June 17, 2011 02:50 am
Great suggestions. I would add that if you can't avoid having mixed light source temperatures, consider converting your image to black and white.
June 17, 2011 02:31 am
I have a Nikon D70 with the 50mm 1.8 .... I like the lenses a lot because it allows for photos indoors with no flash; but I'm still not satisfied... My D70 ISO goes up to 1600, but it's very grainy at the point. 800 is the max I'd go, but even at that ISO, you can see grain... Maybe my house isn't lit as well as it should be or something, but I don't think I come close to being able to use a good shutter speed indoors (without flash).
June 17, 2011 02:24 am
My only question about the 50mm 1.8 is the tradeoff from shooting with a longer focal length. Several portrait photographers I know shoot in the 100mm to 150mm range to facilitate blurring the background and compressing the subject. Of course, they have lenses costing more than $1,000 to get the aperture. I use an 18mm-200mm f3.5-5.6 lens and try to shoot on the longer end, but dial up my ISO to compensate. Any thoughts?
June 17, 2011 02:13 am
I know the point is to shoot with equipment on hand, but I might add that you can hook yourself up with a canon 50mm 1.8 for around $99. SERiously worth the wee little pricetag as a starter lens. And 1.8?! Awesome!! :)
June 17, 2011 02:12 am
For the money, you really can't beat the 50mm f/1.8. It takes great pictures overall, and is an excellent lens for relatively low-light shots.
June 17, 2011 02:04 am
I love my nifty fifty - you can get some great indoor shots with one.
June 17, 2011 02:00 am
I LOVE this simple article. I'm getting pretty good with outdoor photos - but indoors are almost always rotten unless there's already some great lighting - and you can never count on that. I'm still pretty much a beginner when I'm working with my manual settings, so simple tips like these are much more easily absorbed! And THANKS for the tip on the 'light scoop'. I've been trying to put a little paper or something over my flash if I had to use the pop-up.
June 17, 2011 01:45 am
Thanks for this addressing this topic Elizabeth and DPS. I guess one has to make do with what they have. I do plan on buying a 50 or 35 mm at some point in the future but in the meantime I'll have to make do with a diffuser for the pop up flash.
June 17, 2011 01:42 am
Excellent points, Elizabeth. I would add ... that if you have an appropriate telescopic monopod (based the weight of your camera and lens), preferably one fit with a good ball head, there are times it can be simply invaluable.
I am so fortunate to be the resident photographer for our city's Regional Center For The Arts, and I frequently shoot indoor candid events (including children), art and art receptions, concerts and plays ... often when a flash would be inappropriate or distracting. Almost all of the shooting is slated for the web, so I can often shoot at a high ISO (knowing the images will be viewed online ... a little noise reduction in RAW usually clears up any excessive noise problems, at least enough for web viewing where images are smallish.)
My monopod is fundamental for adding stability while using slower shutter speeds, and it is height flexible, and ultra-portable. To be fair, there are still shots at these speeds that come out blurry (if the subject is moving) and are discarded, but of course, we shoot a boatload of images to get a little of the great stuff.
I always have a good monopod close by when shooting indoors, and often outdoors in lower light. There'll come a time when you have to make the jump to a tripod depending on your goals for a specific shoot, but I would sure urge anyone who hasn't considered it, to try adding a mono to their tool bag. Good shooting, everyone!
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