Feeling frustrated with indoor photography? Want to know how you can capture beautiful indoor photos with only natural light?
Working with natural light indoors can be tricky. So in this article, I’m going to share plenty of tips and tricks I use in my own photography. And I’ll also share plenty of examples along the way – so that you can see my advice in action!
Let’s dive right in.
1. It’s all about the windows
Indoor photography comes with a significant problem:
A lack of light. And without light, you can’t get beautiful, well-exposed photos.
So what do you do? Some photographers turn to artificial lighting, such as studio strobes and flashes. But I prefer to keep things natural, which is why I look for light coming through windows, and I use it to illuminate my subject.
In fact, as soon as you’ve chosen a subject, walk around your indoor space. Think about the quality of light that the different windows provide; does it flood the room softly? Does it beam in, bouncing off the walls and floors? How would it look when illuminating your subject?
Soft light will add a soft glow, and harsh light will give a dramatic or moody look.
Also recognize that the color of light changes throughout the day. Light looks warm at sunrise, cool at midday, and warm at sunset.
Once you know indoor lighting well, you’ll be able to use it to achieve the perfect effects.
2. Turn off the lights
Natural light doesn’t like competition.
Specifically, natural light doesn’t like electric lights, which cause two problems:
- Electric lights cast unexpected shadows and will interfere with the directionality of your main window light.
- Electric lights produce warmer or cooler illumination, which contrasts with the color of the natural light.
In particular, skin tones can look odd when artificial and natural light start to mix.
The easiest way to fix this?
Just turn off all electric lights! That way, you can keep your colors looking natural while focusing on a single light source.
3. Shoot in Aperture Priority mode
In Aperture Priority mode, you choose the aperture while your camera chooses the shutter speed. This gives you flexibility over your exposure without stepping over into the Wild West of Manual mode.
Aperture Priority is generally marked with an AV or an A, as shown below:
So what settings should you dial in for the best indoor natural light photography?
I’d recommend starting with a wide-open aperture to let in lots of light. Choose a low f-number such as f/2.8 or f/1.8 to keep your exposure nice and bright.
Plus, when you use a wide aperture, your depth of field will be shallow. So your subject will stay in focus while your background is left soft and blurry. This adds a beautiful effect to portrait, nature, and product shots.
Note that, for portraits, an aperture of around f/5.6 or f/6.3 will keep the entire face in focus (though this will depend on your focal length and your distance from the subject). Focus on your subject’s eyes for best results.
Also, shoot in RAW. A RAW file will give you a lot more to work with when editing – so you can enhance your indoor photos for stunning results.
4. Choose your white balance in advance
Some photographers like to select their white balance during post-processing (so they’ll leave their camera set to Auto White Balance when shooting).
But while this can work, it’s often easier to get the white balance right before taking a photo (plus, it’ll save you lots of time during editing).
So take your camera off Auto White Balance. Observe the light and consider which white balance preset works best for your situation.
For instance, I generally use Daylight for indoor portrait photography, though you might also pick Cloudy for a warmer look. And the other white balance presets can work, too, depending on the effect you’re after.
Honestly, I’d recommend you try several different white balance settings when first starting out – that way, you can determine which looks you like and which looks you’d prefer to avoid.
(Always bear in mind, however, that the white balance results will change depending on the quality of the light. Applying a Cloudy white balance to a shot lit by cloudy light will give a neutral look, while applying a Cloudy white balance to a shot lit by warm evening light will actually enhance the warm effect.)
If all else fails, you can always adjust your white balance while editing.
5. Use a light-catching backdrop
Remember how I said that indoor settings tend to lack light?
That’s why you’ll need to maximize existing light. And a simple way to do this is with a reflective backdrop.
Specifically, a white backdrop will help catch the light and bounce it back onto your subject. Here’s the type of setup I’m talking about:
The white material helps cradle the light around the flowers:
And creating a simple light-catching backdrop isn’t hard, either. The one featured in the above photo was made with a freestanding collapsible clothes rack and a long piece of white material.
(It’s very easy to set up and very easy to move around!)
6. Use a light box
A light box will create a similar effect as a reflective backdrop, but it will help control the light even more.
In fact, you can construct a light box with lots of cloth – but instead of putting it behind your subject, wrap it all around. Here’s a makeshift light box I used for this food still life:
And here’s the final image:
7. Use a reflector
A reflector bounces light back toward your subject.
And it’s a great way to keep your entire subject nicely lit.
For the shots below, I set up a backdrop and positioned my daughter so that her left side faced the window. She held a reflector in her right hand, which helped lighten the shadows:
And here’s a behind-the-scenes photo:
8. Use a mirror
A mirror is another great way to control natural light. Simply hang a mirror in the window; I used a large suction cup with a hook to hang the mirror pictured below:
Then have your model look in the mirror. As you take your shot, make sure your reflection doesn’t appear. (It can take some patience to get the angles and reflections under control, but it’s worth it.)
I used a small handheld mirror for this shot. A larger mirror would require less cropping:
9. Tidy up
There are often things lying around the house, especially if you have kids. And this clutter can be distracting in a photograph. It’s worth taking a couple minutes to tidy up before you start shooting.
In fact, a backdrop can serve a double purpose here: it can control light, while also covering up all the background clutter! It can help make a small space more workable.
For most of the photos in this article, I pushed our sofa and table into the middle of the living room, then I set up in front of our largest window. Without the backdrop, this location would look far too busy.
10. Place your subject close to the window
Earlier in this article, I talked about the importance of windows when doing indoor photography.
But it’s not enough to just use windows. You also need to carefully position your subject.
Specifically, place your subject a foot or two away from the light source. That way, you’ll make use of the natural light, and you’ll also avoid the harsh contrast that comes from being too close to the window.
One more tip:
Experiment with lighting effects. Try backlighting, sidelighting, and frontlighting (just have your model face in different directions and follow them with your camera!).
11. Use the curtains
If the light is harsh, you’ll get unpleasant shadows and contrasty subjects – unless you can diffuse it!
So here’s what I recommend:
Use curtains or blinds!
If you have translucent curtains, let them cover the window completely. If your curtains are opaque, consider closing them partway, then let the light feather onto your subject.
Alternatively, if your curtains aren’t suitable for diffusing the light, you could hang a piece of diffusive material over your curtain rods.
12. Shoot reflective objects
Natural light can turn the most common thing (like the moisture on the window pictured below) into something beautiful.
Personally, I think reflective objects look gorgeous when hit by sunlight. Here are just a few examples:
So have fun playing around with reflective objects and natural light. The light will create all sorts of interesting reflections, and it’ll even glisten off shiny objects:
Indoor natural light photography: You’ve got to love it!
It’s easy to love indoor natural light photography.
The setup is inexpensive, portable, and easy to use, plus you can create beautiful photos no matter the weather or time of day.
Don’t forget to have fun and let that inner beauty shine through!
Now over to you:
Have you tried indoor natural light photography? Let me know how your natural light shoots go by commenting below!