5 Tips for Consistently Good Photos Indoors

5 Tips for Consistently Good Photos Indoors

For most beginners and even some professionals, photographing indoors can be the thorn in your side. Here are some tips I’ve discovered out of necessity:

Taken at night with a Lightscoop - no natural light

1. Get away from your pop-up – Get away from shooting your pop up flash straight into the photo. Options for redirecting light are to add a flash to your hot shoe (like a Speedlite) and bounce it off walls and ceilings or (as I do) use a Lightscoop to redirect the light from your pop up without spending a couple hundred on a flash unit. These options are not the same as using a diffuser on your flash (like covering it with a piece of tissue). It’s important to actually change the direction the light is coming from for ‘studio’ results like beautiful catchlights in the eyes.

Catchlights from highchair and window

2. Catch it – Catchlights bring life to the eyes and getting them indoors can be tricky. I produce them indoors using a Lightscoop and a nearby wall. If you have a baby, photographing them in their highchair with white tray near a window can light up the eyes much like holding a reflector near the face. Tip 4 can also help…

3. Spot – discover a spot in your house where you know you will be able to get consistently good shots. For me, it’s my kitchen. I know that no matter what, if I want to take a good portrait of my kids, I call them into the kitchen. The south-facing room full of white cabinets bounces the light allover the place and I never need a flash! So when they do something funny I want to photograph, I just get them to do it again in the kitchen!

4. Windows – Obviously, light is your ally and light comes through windows! Another hot spot in my house is the living room sofa opposite a large window. The window produces a pleasing catchlight and being that the room is north-facing, the light is soft and produces beautiful soft shadows on the face. This room is darker than the kitchen in tip #3 so I have to remember to compensate with my settings.

My kitchen is always a consistently dependable and perfect location

5. Nix the ISO – I don’t care what the manufacturers say: any ISO above 800 is crap! Make friends with your flash and learn how to maximise natural and manmade light. If you’re a beginner, it is scary at first. I thought I could get away with it by proudly stating that I was an ‘available light photographer’ (as if I even knew what I was talking about!) Anything worth doing is worth doing well. You can surprise yourself with what you’ll learn just by practising. And it’s not like we have to buy rolls of film to do it.

What about you? Do you enjoy taking photos inside or do you loathe it?

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Elizabeth Halford is a photographer and advertising creative producer in Orlando, FL. She wrote her first article for dPS in 2010. Her most popular one racked up over 100k shares!

Some Older Comments

  • Michael Mietlicki March 14, 2012 02:29 am

    A lot of good information and opinions from both sides of the isle.
    I do a lot of lighted stage musical production photography where, given the nature of that environment and speed of movements I am required to use a higher ISO in order to capture images that will be of ANY use to anybody, myself included. Higher ISO shooting it a balance of the settings and capabilities of the camera - High ISO NR, ISO Sensitivity, Sensitivity Auto-Control (if desired), AE/AF, shutter speed settings, using a flash to slow down the shot, etc... all of this is taken into consideration - you can't afford to be 'lazy' when shooting at higher ISOs. Lighted studio situations (artificial environments) you can shoot at 200 / 400 and result in images that will render larger reprints without fear of noise. Higher ISO shooting requires planning, exacting execution and good ol' trial-and-error - you can achieve the same results. And don't forget ANY photographers biggest and most important tool ... patience.

    Happy shooting.

  • Rhys Wheatley January 14, 2012 08:28 am

    From my experience crop sensor camera's tend to blur fine details at ISO's over 800, however that isn't true with FF in my experience, I would't even think twice about shooting 1000 ISO on my D700, I do it even if I'm using flash, as I also use the wide angle flash diffuser, and usually point the flash up at the ceiling behind me for for maximum softness, and so no part of the flash tube can see the subject as not to cause harsh specular highlights.

  • ann December 2, 2011 03:35 am

    thanks for the tuts n advice... just bought meself low end dslr.. lol! having no problem with capturing food images coz i'm using homemade light box but yr article hopefully can help me taking indoor pix..

  • Jessica M September 10, 2011 12:28 pm

    Elizabeth, I am a beginner and I agree with your 3 and forth points, spot and window. For me the both of those points combine to me always taking my photos in the family room. It has a ton of natural light and there is one spot across from my television that is PERFECT. Almost all of my holiday famil y pictures have been taken in that spot, lol. I see that you talk about artificial light as well. I have to say that this is taken me MUCH longer to master. Like I said, I am new to photography but hopefully I will start to get the hang of all the little things sooner or later. Thanks for this post.


  • Mary March 30, 2011 10:00 pm

    I think Elizabeth was being colourful in the way she commented about higher ISOs. There really is nothing wrong with it. Its absolutely great that she has such strong opinions instead of trying to please everyone. This is what she discovered in her photographic experience. We are all grown up enought to experiment and learn what works best for us.

    Photographers, by nature, are creative people who will push boundaries as they grow and develop in their art. So no one is going to stop them. They will take all advice and discover what suits them.

    While beginners might start with lower ISOs, on reading Elizabeth's comment, with a bit of experience they will explore higher ISOs.

    We should be grateful to those who offer their tips and suggestions here - learn from other people's experience, even if it sounds limiting. It is a positive thing, not something to be slagged off.

  • david March 28, 2011 12:57 am

    I'd rather go for the high-ISO noise rather than letting the moment slip forever. I wouldn't mind people 20 years from now chuckle on my ISO 3200 luminance-noised prints and going "aha, this was the technical limit of the 2010s"

  • Jacob May 22, 2010 04:41 am

    Boy, if over 800 ISO is crap I wasted a TON of money buying 2 Nikon D3 bodies when I upgraded from my crop-body cameras. I guess I also owe every wedding client I've worked for a huge apology as I've printed many large photos (24" x 36") from 6400 ISO files (8x "crappier" than the legal "crap" limit).

    I wish I'd known all of this. From now on I'll shoot ceremonies at ISO 800 and instead of freezing action at 1/125, I'll go for 1/15 and very blurry subjects.

    Thanks DPS!

  • James April 16, 2010 05:46 pm

    I agree lighting is important. But I'm still not comfortable with using artificial light.
    I shun it as much as possible. More often than not, I find it ruins the photojournalist nature of my photos.
    Maybe that's because I'm not as goot at it as I should be too.

  • Pete April 12, 2010 07:30 pm

    Take a look at the following wedding photographer and tell me that his images look amateurish :

    <a href="http://jeffascough.com/" title="jeffascough.com"

    Lighting is important, but it really depends on how good the photographer is and the post production techniques.

  • Steve Wilde April 10, 2010 05:59 am

    One more try:

  • Steve Wilde April 10, 2010 05:53 am
  • Steve Wilde April 10, 2010 05:52 am

    I tried twice to post a link to one this morning, but neither post appeared. Maybe posts with links have to be moderated first, IDK. I'm going to try once more in another post, all by itself.

  • KenjiK April 10, 2010 05:45 am

    Talk about noise on higher ISOs, NoiseNinja whatever. I have not found a stylistic impressive photos with noise shot at higher ISOs without using Lightroom or any other plugins. Show us some interesting photos shot from high ISOs with noise not grains, please! Show us some noise!

  • Mike Padua (aka Mike #1) April 10, 2010 05:04 am

    I just realized that, in my first comment (waaaay early on), I said "24 x 60." That's totally untrue. I've never made a 60 inch print.

    What I meant to say was 26 x 40, a common lobby poster size.

  • Mike Padua (aka Mike #1) April 10, 2010 04:47 am

    @ Elizabeth Halford,

    First off, I think it's worth mentioning that this is the first "MIke" that stated:

    "After learning the basics of exposure and some very, very simple noise reduction techniques, I’ve been shooting ISO 3200 on my 20D and 6400 on my 7D and printing as large as 24×60."

    A different "Mike" said:

    By choosing the name “Digital Photography School” you have accepted a burden to inform and educate your readers."

    Just want to make sure we're not confused as being the same "MIke"--which is also why I've chosen to use my last name.

    At any rate, regarding this statement in your follow-up comment: "I would love to use my camera at higher ISOs with noise-free, stunning detail. If we can share our knowledge rather than just criticise, this will be a happier place of online learning."

    Well, you're in luck (and so am I), since that's already been done dozens, if not even hundreds, of times over. I'm not going to try to reinvent the wheel, since it's been invented for me.

    For the sake of argument, though, I will share my technique here. Simply put, I shoot RAW, I overexpose slightly (1/3, maybe 2/3 of a stop) and then correct (bring exposure down) in post. I guarantee there are people that will argue that you "should get it spot-on at the time of exposure, etc." but unfortunately, we live in the real world.

    Using that simple technique, I can shoot images that, while certainly not as clean and smooth as a 100ISO file, can make beautiful, noise-free lobby posters at 26x40 inches. We're not talking 400 x 600 pixel images on Facebook. We're not talking 4x6 prints. We're talking POSTERS. Here are my examples:


    Is there grain at 100%? Of course! We live in the real world! Did my client NOT pay me because there was grain at 100% when viewed on a 22-inch monitor? No--she paid me and hired me for her next production. But then again, she didn't pixel-peep. She looked at the posters, commented on how beautiful they were, and proudly displayed them in the lobby of the theater for all to see on opening night. She continues to hire me, and I continue to pay my bills with that money.

    Also, those actors are proudly using some of those images in their portfolios, which is an honor to me.

    With all that said, I appreciate the sentiment of your article. My problem was the thought that, for years, I stayed away from ISO 1600 and up because they scared the crap out of me, only to find out that the real limitation was my technique. Makes me think of all the shots I missed because I was afraid to use those high ISO speeds--and I feel sorry for the people that will either miss a shot or not take the shot at all because they're staying away from higher ISO speeds.

    The fact is, our equipment DOES have limitations. No matter what we do, we can't get a perfectly exposed image if we're in a situation where there simply ISN'T ENOUGH LIGHT, flash or no flash--our cameras are NOT imbued with magic.

    However, I think when using high ISOs in practice, shooting RAW, overexposing slightly, bringing exposure down in your editor of choice, and applying a touch of noise reduction, you're gong to wonder where all the noise went. Grain doesn't bother me. Ansel Adams' photos have grain. Richard Avedon's photos have grain (NO--I'm not comparing myself to those two). And, when printed, that grain doesn't really matter, IF it even shows up at all.

    If you're one of those people that can't stand the sight of it, and need super-clean images when pixel-peeping (I used to be guilty of this) or else you just hate the shot, I can't change (and won't try to change) your opinion.

    Jeez, I just realized I wrote a lot. I will stop my rambling post to say, again, I looked at your site--and you're a darn fine photographer. I ask that you give those higher ISO's a shot using the above technique, make a giant print, stand back a few feet and admire your beautiful work.

  • Steve Wilde April 10, 2010 12:44 am

    Nikon D90 - 15 sec xp - 58mm - ISO 2000 - High ISO Noise Reduction turned on - no post processing (other than resizing) [Experimenting with White Balance at night]
    [eimg url='http://users.accesscomm.ca/arcturus/images/2010-02-17%20Frosty%20Winter%20Night%20011.jpg' title='2010-02-17%20Frosty%20Winter%20Night%20011.jpg']
    Note this photo for what it doesn't have: Crap.

  • Jared Polin April 10, 2010 12:21 am

    All of these responses are great, JM great information in your post. Again, i want to show what 10,000 ISO looks like under terrible indoor lighting in a ballroom at a hotel. http://bit.ly/bPlv4C
    Yes this is shot with a d3s and 300 2.8 but i just want to show you that it can be done. The older cameras had a much harder time over 800. I have made 40x60 prints from the d2x that were shot around 800 which held up beyond belief. I have taken 5000 ISO shots form the D3 and cranked out 30x45 inch prints as well. http://bit.ly/bPlv4C

    There are so many variables that determine what you can get away with. Putting definite's on anything in photography just doesn't work. Somethings that dont work for me may work for someone else and in art whatever works works.

    But great back and forths here, i think people are getting great info!!

    Jared Polin

  • Lovelyn April 10, 2010 12:21 am

    Thinks for the great post, Elizabeth. I have to admit that sometimes I struggle with indoor shots. I prefer taking pictures outside, but I've been trying to do more indoor shooting lately. My front room has big windows with lots of good light. It's a great spot to take an indoor picture at the right time of day.

  • Guy Collier April 9, 2010 10:35 pm

    You say "I would also like to point out that that absolute opinion about ISO is just wrong."

    And then you state an absolute opinion about Nikon which is just wrong. A D200 is poor at ISO800, but a D700 most certainly isn't. I am quite happy at ISO3200 with D3 and D700's, and 6400 if needed. I make my living using these bodies in this way.

    You're using a line that may have been true 3 years ago.

  • thearyn April 9, 2010 04:45 pm

    As I already saw a bunch of comments like that, I would also like to point out that that absolute opinion about ISO is just wrong. In my view it is quite about the specifics of the manufacturer or brand, whatever you would like to call it. I've had the chance to try out differents brands of DSLR's and honestly, yes talking about Nikon, everything over ISO800 is crap, even 800 is not that satisfying, with Olympus I guess it won't be wrong to say that the crap starts from ISO200 above, but with Canon ISO is just not a problem. You can get a perfectly fine image with ISO3600 e.g. and it would be with the exact same quality like with ISO100 (not talking about overoverdark shots off course).

  • Steve Wilde April 9, 2010 07:19 am

    I just wanted to add that I had a look at Elizabeth's photos on her website and they are beautiful. She has some amazing captures of her children. My photos of people, on the other hand, are awful. My night photos using high ISO are good. We all have our "style" that we are good at.
    I've read article after article about not shooting in bright sunlight because of the washed out results. And yet I still prefer a lot of my pictures taken in bright sunlight to those done on overcast days. So we not only have preferred "styles" we have different perceptions about the final results.

    Thanks for the info, Elizabeth. I want to start taking people photos and this gives me some good advice for a starting place. I had planned to turn my basement into a practice studio, but the lighting down there is very poor. This article gives me the pause to rethink my portrait practice sessions might be better placed in the living room with the large picture window.

  • rick buch April 9, 2010 06:56 am

    As a beginning amatuer with an older entry level dslr I enjoyed this article, but really learned a lot more reading the replies to it. Thanks everyone for contributing, even if all of the contributions weren't appreciated by all. They all gave me food for thought.

  • Steve Wilde April 9, 2010 06:51 am

    I've shot some pretty nice images at 1600 - 3200 ISO on my D90 using the ISO Noise Reduction. Of course, I haven't made large prints of them, but they look damn fine on even the biggest of monitors.
    I also like to shoot at 320 ISO for normal, everyday, outdoors shots as well.

  • Pat Rotondi April 9, 2010 06:48 am

    I hate indoor shots. The good shots happen too far from the flash, the pictures alway look grainy and the damn orbs are always there with a pop up flash ( i wish it was grandma like some people believe) but they really ruin good shots.

  • Stuart Meyer April 9, 2010 06:32 am

    My 5D II does fine at ISO 1600, and as long as I don't underexpose the image (maybe even overexpose by half a stop), ISO 3200 is good. I've read many articles and it's obvious DPS knows their photography, so I'm assuming the ISO comment was directed at older dslr's or point and shoots that most folks use.

  • mattbisme April 9, 2010 05:48 am

    I imagine muscle memory is what brought the "Google" in the email title. That aside, nice article!

  • Jill Guillemin April 9, 2010 05:45 am

    Elizabeth, I would like to say how "stimuating"all this feedback has been. I can't wait to get hold of my new 7D and try out all the iso s and see what happens.! I am doing an on line pro photography course. I have to say it sometimes does my head in! BUT it makes me think, and think! I like being able to go onto this site for some feed back. I am what you would call a "newby" in terms of techo stuff. it scares me out of my wits, But I know I have to learn it. I have been told, I have very good eye, So I am no too discouraged. Please continue and get the hornets all stirred up! It's great. It is a bit like having teenagers, {well passed now for me} they dont really mean it personally. Go for it and create a flurry. if "this "hadn't happened I would not have been "encouraged"in this direction.
    Thanks Jill

  • Erin Mallon April 9, 2010 05:28 am

    These are some great tips! With photographing craft projects for my homemade gift shop, I've used some of the same principles. But because I don't have an external flash, I use two daylight bulbs in freestanding lamps and direct the light at the wall and ceiling. Diffuses the light quite nicely!

  • Guy Collier April 9, 2010 05:27 am

    I'm sorry Rick, but that sort of absolute statement doesn't cut it any more.

    I'm sitting here looking at 30" canvases made with an 'old' 5D at ISO1600 and they're very good. I'm also looking at 15x12 Queensberry albums and one full page uses a D3 shot at ISO6400.

    Expose correctly, use the light properly and it's perfectly easy to get usable shots with today's DSLR's at well over ISO800, let alone 400.

  • Paul Varner April 9, 2010 05:22 am

    I too disagree with the ISO advice . If you're shooting a dark scene, with darker colors . . .then "yes" , a high ISO will yield noise o'plenty on those darker colors. If you're shooting faces or lighter colored items , 1600 ISO seems to handle that with minimal noise. I use high ISO and a 1.8 lens indoors when there's enough light.
    But , "yes" , off camera flash (SB600 or whatever) that can be tweaked manually . . . . .that's a good way to go.

  • Rick April 9, 2010 05:21 am

    Guy it really depends on what you want the image for. If you are going to use it for the web, or small prints, sure higher iso okay. IIMHO you can not get large print that is worth framing and hanging at anything over 400.

  • Guy Collier April 9, 2010 05:13 am

    Really Rick, you think so?.....

  • Rick April 9, 2010 05:11 am

    Great comeback Elizabeth. I completely agree with you about high iso. These people that claim to be able to produce good image at iso over 800 should get their eyes checked. You go girl, your articles are great.

  • Stanley April 9, 2010 04:34 am

    hehe you news letter said Google not good... lolz

  • Elizabeth Halford April 9, 2010 04:26 am

    "Google Photos"? That's bizarre!

  • Stephen Hurlbut April 9, 2010 04:16 am

    I agree that bouncing your light off walls is much more preferable to using a high ISO, however, I disagree that anything above 800 ISO is crap. Not with the noise reduction turned on. (I have a 7d too and until I figured that one out, I was a little disappointed...) Often times, I would rather not use a flash as it can be irritating or inappropriate, such as a wedding? So I would much rather use the other options available: high iso, or a slow shutter speed.

    You didn't mention image stabilizers, when I got mine I was pretty happy with it. I can take pictures below 1/60th of a second and that allows me to use lower ISOs. However, I would rather go with a higher shutter speed and higher ISO, than the other way around.

    One problem I have run into when bouncing light off the ceiling, sometimes the ceilings are too high(30 feet), and it doesn't work properly. Is there a good way to do that?

  • KimmyVC April 9, 2010 03:43 am

    While I prefer natural light as well, something I'm working on is how to make artificial light LOOK natural. For those of you interested in learning more about how to do this with speedlites, I recently read a book ("On-Camera Flash") by Neil van Niekerk that I thought was really helpful. His website is www.planetneil.com, if you're interested. I've learned a lot. Hopefully it'll sink in the more I practice. :-)

  • jm April 9, 2010 03:38 am

    Btw, here is an awesome DOF calculator, that helps you play around with the variables and see how they affect the results:

  • Mindy April 9, 2010 03:25 am

    Elizabeth, keep writing - I enjoy your articles and wish the highly critical/negative folks would keep their comments friendly and warm. Gentlemen, it hurts the feel of DPS when the comments are unpleasant and sharply critical - so, why not simply say, "Great article. I don't agree with your thoughts on ISO because I get some great results with my D3S, but I know that less advanced cameras aren't able to handle high ISO's."

    Maybe it's just the Canadian way, but I'd sure like to read a lot more civility. And I'd really like a D3X : )


  • jm April 9, 2010 03:24 am

    @elizabeth - I don't want to belabor the point with respect to your ISO statement. Some were a little harsh, though I think the main problem everyone had was really just the presentation of your point as a cold fact. But you did ask for some tips on getting better ISO results. The two easiest things to do, in my opinion, are to nail exposure and focus. That sounds a lot more elementary than most would like to hear, but these two items are so often glanced over because of post-processing capabilities and RAW flexibility. But the fact is that the defocused and underexposed areas of images reveal the most amount of perceived noise (technically, the brightest areas have the highest quantity of noise, but it's not perceived that way). And generally if you are shooting at higher ISOs, you are using wider aperatures, with very narrow DOFs, and hence more areas of the image are defocused. So I spend a GREAT deal of effort concentrating on my focusing, and knowing (roughly) your DOF charts is very helpful in this aspect (at the very least, how the factors of distance, focal length, aperture, and crop factor affect your results). For example, if you are shooting at 50mm f/1.4 and your subject is about 5 feet away, you only have a couple inches at best. If you allow your body to move in or away from your subject, even slightly and unconsiously, after focusing and before taking the shot (during "anticipation"), you won't be perfectly focused, and the noise is prone to reveal itself more in those areas.

    Same thing with exposure. This one is tricky because most photographers are afraid of noise, so we try to push the ISO only as far as necessary, but barely. If you aren't paying attention to your histogram (rather than just the LCD image) you will tend to underexpose because you are afraid to push the ISO. Say you have a mental barrier at ISO 800, and on your LCD screen the shot looks fine. Then in post, you have to increase exposure by a half stop or more, and you see the noise, reaffirming your suspicions that noise at ISO 800 and higher is crap. But ironically, had you just used ISO 1250 (2/3 stop more light) you would have perceived LESS noise in the image than at ISO 800 and increasing exposure by 2/3 stops in Lightroom.

    There is definitely a great deal of merit to knowing the capabilities and limits of your camera body as well. I know with our D700's, I can go to 3200 with no problems at all, and 6400 carefully if I am using good quality light. If I have a D300 on me, I know those numbers go down to 1600 and 2500 respectively.

    Noise/grain is, of course, a stylistic preference. In my opinion, noise gets a far worse rap than it deserves though. Sometimes, yes, it looks awful, and ruins the integrity of an image. And you will have to admit that shooting for Getty is different than shooting for 99.9% of clients, especially for children (and let's face it, revenue streams are far higher with our direct clients than with stock photography these days). But more often than not, when executed well, it adds authenticity to an image. I use a TON of off camera flash in my work, but if the conditions allow it (as in, not outside in the direct sun) I still use flash often between ISO 400-3200. Sometimes the mood and ambiance warrant that, and sometimes the concept demands it.

    All things being equal though, I think most photographers are going to choose the lowest workable ISO. I hope that some of the info here, however, will encourage some to break that mental ISO barrier when the situation calls for it.

  • Steve Wilde April 9, 2010 03:22 am

    Emai notification of this article says:
    5 Tips for Consistently Google Photos Indoors
    Sort of amusing.

  • mandi April 9, 2010 03:08 am

    now that i bought me a pentax 50 mil wide lens, i love doing indoor. im a very small time photographer with just my camera and few different lens's. my living room is my best spot with wide open windows and white walls.. i really like the look of nayural lighting.. after i shoot the picture i photoshop my white wall background and give it a hole new look to make it look studio.

  • n April 9, 2010 02:49 am

    Anybody else notice this said 'consistently google photos' in the email?
    I was confused.

  • Katherine April 9, 2010 02:47 am

    I enjoy photographing indoors- so I get plenty of practice. Great tips!

  • Jared Polin April 7, 2010 01:07 am

    Those getty requirement are so out of touch with reality. If you are doing studio work I can see shooting 200 ISO. If you are shooting concerts your definitely not going to shoot 200 iso. Find find what works best for you and if you are happy with it than go for it and keep up the great work.

    Jared Polin

  • Rick April 7, 2010 12:19 am

    My 50mm f/1.4 does a beautiful job inside without using flash of any kind or going above 800 ISO. In fact, I took most of the pictures for the yearbook at the school I work at with just such a setting!

  • Steve A April 6, 2010 10:08 pm

    Hi Ron,

    You mention some valuable points and I like what you say. Your insight would have been much better suited to the article than the opinionated and unreasoned view that "ISO above 800 is crap". That is the only issue I have with this article.

    If it had been written in terms of "I feel that ISO above 800 gives too much noise, but there are many variables to consider, such as lighting, your target viewing size, your cameras sensor etc - so don't be afraid to try it" , then I am sure the comments on this page would have been halved.

  • Guy Collier April 6, 2010 08:28 pm


    I make a deliberate choice to not use flash unless I absolutely have to when I shoot a wedding. I don't like the look it gives me, I don't like the attention it draws to me, I don't like that it often kills carefully planned ambient light, and I generally find it unnecessary. I have to work harder to find my light but that's good. I want light and shade, I want contrast. I don't want to flood with light.

    As an example, last Sunday's wedding here http://www.guycollierphotography.com/?p=2335

    Aside from the last 2 shots, no flash at all. And a lot of shots at ISO3200.....btw, these are Nikon D3 and D700.



  • Ron Gibson April 6, 2010 03:08 pm

    Since everyone is still talking about ISO, I thought I would add some good information. I've taken this directly from the Getty Images submission guidelines:

    - - - - - - - - - - -
    When shooting digitally, we generally recommend not to shoot at too high an ISO setting. This
    can vary from camera to camera, but with 35mm SLR’s the ISO is generally capped at between
    320-400 ISO, due to problems with excessive noise at higher ISO’s. The best quality is achieved
    below 200 ISO.
    - - - - - - - - - - -

    If you don't know who Getty Images are, they are probably one of the most strict (and highly regarded) stock agencies. While many photographers may dislike them for this, and want to disagree. I still suggest that their quality level should be something to keep in mind- not that it is the holy grail- but something to keep in mind. Getty are one of the highest priced stock agencies.

    While newer camera's are obtaining better and better quality at high ISO (however, most readers on this site cannot afford an $6000+ camera body), it is still preferable to shoot at lower ISO's 'if you are able to'. It is generally not recommended to shoot at a high ISO unless you have a reason to do so.

    That's the last I'll say about ISO. I hope this clears some air.

    I also posted a write-up on my blog about ISO a few months ago (I don't usually plug my site but it seems appropriate today) for those readers that are wondering what all the hoop-la has been about. Feel free to have a look:

  • Jared Polin April 6, 2010 02:10 am

    You are 100% correct steve, nothing wrong with shooting high iso if you are getting great results like you are showing in your post.

    Again here is what i am getting at 10,000 ISO in the d3s http://bit.ly/bPlv4C

    Jared Polin

  • Steve A April 5, 2010 04:22 pm

    Just to show how high ISO really doesnt mean the end of a pleasing picture, I thought I would share this photo I just made at ISO3200 using only what little window light I had available just now. I have used noise reduction in lightroom, but the difference isnt really visible at this viewing size.

    Full Exif details:
    ISO: 3200
    exposure: 1/400 sec
    Aperture: F4
    Focal Length: 82mm

    Please dont anybody make the assumption that using ISO higher than 800 will result in "crap"

    [eimg url='http://www.stevearnoldphoto.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/04/BearSmall.jpg' title='BearSmall.jpg']

  • Richard April 4, 2010 06:22 pm

    Bouncing flash off the ceiling would be difficult for me because I have a popcorn texture for now. Can it still bouinch off my ceiling or not?

  • Jared Polin April 4, 2010 10:03 am

    Hey everyone, i wanted to share with you what 10,000 ISO looks like in full res out of the nikon d3s shot with a 300 2.8 af-s. I made a video as well as posted the full size exported jpegs from the raw file. This was under very tough lighting, take a look let me know what you think

    Jared Polin

  • Manvir Randhawa April 4, 2010 06:03 am


    taken with Canon 7D at ISO 3200.... A bit noisy but still acceptable i guess.....

  • Elizabeth Halford April 4, 2010 04:34 am

    @Ron: "But try to avoid the absolutes so people don’t have to harp on with the same negative comments over and over." Oh, Ron...*sigh* wish it were that simple! :) lol. Been there, tried that. People still hated me! I just say what I want now! :)

  • Carla April 4, 2010 03:39 am

    The article should simply have been entitled "5 QUICK/SIMPLE Beginner Tips for Consistently Good Photos Indoors" and all the extraneous/unwarranted/unecessary info listed in all ensuing "comments" coul/should have been eliminated altogether.

    Thanks Elizabeth for the QUICK/SIMPLE Beginner tips! Your time and professional opinions are appreciated as always :)

  • Ron Gibson April 4, 2010 03:35 am

    OMG. There are some pretty critical people out here.

    @Elizabeth- Decent post. But try to avoid the absolutes so people don't have to harp on with the same negative comments over and over. I hope they don't discourage you from posting, I've read a few of your posts and they have been good overall. I'm enjoying the early morning read.

    @Brent- great addition, that's the first thing that came to mind. Use a fast lens. This is something that 'new' photographers need to read. Get that 'kit lens' off your camera and throw on a 50mm f1.4. They are inexpensive and one of the best pieces of glass most people will ever buy. Actually it's the first lens I tell people to buy, skip the kit lens and buy the 50.

    This 'school' is really a forum for information sharing and to help other photographers expand, and hopefully continue to explore different methods of photography. While Elizabeth's comment about her disliking ISO above 800 has caused mass panic, well I have to agree (usually). It's not a cold hard rule. But if it was a rule, like all rules you must first learn it, and then learn why to break it.

    Elizabeth is probably trying to express that low ISO provides a cleaner photo than high ISO, simply put. Most photographers want the cleanest photo they can produce. Therefore, high ISO is probably not where you want to be - unless you have to- or, if you want to for it's effect. In the end, if someone could shoot sports or shoot sans flash at ISO100, we would. But alas, we usually can't.

    I'll make a comment about high ISO pro photography (a quick one), there is an amazing photographer who I can't remember that was featured on 'Photo Pro', or 'Pro Photographer' a few months ago that shoots weddings in B&W at about ISO 1600 and above (he is using D3's). And I have to say- I was pleasantly surprised. While I stick to ISO 100 and use off camera flash, I did start to experiment with high(er) ISO after reading about his work. But it is a rarity for me to switch out of 100. (to help you find this photographer for anyone interested, he specialized in Jewish weddings)

    And if you are shooting high ISO 'Noise Ninja' is a great product. I've used it and I have to say I was quite amazed with the results. It turned an ISO 1600 photo into what I would think was an ISO 400 in about 10 minutes.

    About the catch lights and modification: try different modifiers- hell, try some umbrellas, small soft-boxes, beauty dishes, and (I have yet to buy one, but a couple friends love them) the Gary Fong Lightshpere. The 'catch light' is the shape of the modifier reflected in the subjects eyes, this can be square, round, or doughnut shaped, etc- it all comes down to the modifier. And each modifier will have a different effect of lighting the subject. When you start playing with light- this is where your photography will truly change. Well, that and getting your flash off your camera and in your other hand, or on a stand. Then of course the next step is to start using a multiple flash setup.

    That's my two cents.

  • Jeffrey Byrnes April 4, 2010 03:15 am

    Factual information is not opinionated.

    ISO and quality of light plays a huge factor in terms of good exposures. I have made great images with ISO 800 and had a good quality of light to work with that allowed for low to zero noise. If you can distinguish noise in your photographs, and are not happy about it. Maybe it is time to upgrade to a camera that you can allow you to avoid the issue of noise in terms of producing great photographs.

    When it comes to educating people, you can not educated based on opinions. What works for you doesnt always work for someone else. Provide people with the essentials to make photographs. Inform them of how cameras work. Explain the rules of compositions, how to utilize light (both artificial and natural), explain what makes a great composition, show people what ISO 800 is and how it differs from ISO 100 and explain to them how ISO functions comparable to what film speed was in terms of grain vs noise and speeds.

    When people are trying to learn something new, especially with photography. Everything needs to be presented to them. Having articles chopped up into sections that dont explain everything creates a confusion. People have to then spend more time searching for all the right info and less time shooting and enjoying photography. In the beginning it can be confusing for some people to learn all the functions of DSLR. But if they have a place to see all the basics and get an understanding of how it all works, then they can take and apply it to their work.

    Less opinion more fact.

  • Mike #2 April 4, 2010 03:07 am

    @Elizabeth Halford: I deliberated responding; my intent is not to argue, but to contribute meaningfully to a dialog. I apologize if my words were too pointed or callused or if you took offense. The point of my comment was not to undermine, but to provide a perspective on this blog that may help make it better. Please consider the point that the word "school" in the title give your words more weight then you may have expected and stating things in absolute terms can change the tone from that of advice or best practice to one of cold hard facts.

    For clarity; there are two different people named mike. Not one who commented twice.

  • Georg April 4, 2010 02:42 am

    @Elizabeth: the scientist inside me just *has* to weigh in: assuming our usual mathematics and the decimal numeral system (which is no doubt the point where you will bring in your POV argument again ;-)), 2 + 2 = 4 is the only thing that makes sense. Now, if we were talking about "2 and 2" that would be a different thing entirely... ;-) -- oh, and I'll just shut up on that matter now :-)

    on the article: thank you for putting those points together! Not only are they providing a starting point for newbies, they are also getting this discussion started (which IMO should be pointed to in the article under #5, if edits are possible), so:
    @Mike: I'd love to know how to improve low light photographs taken with my D80 on ISO > 400 because at the moment I barely manage to bring them out nice enough (IMO) with help of Gimp and/or NoiseNinja.
    P.S: If the answer is "get a better camera": I've already started saving up money for a D3s :-)

  • Georg April 4, 2010 02:25 am

    @Elizabeth: the scientist inside me just *has* to weigh in: assuming our usual mathematics and the decimal numeral system, 2 + 2 = 4 is the only thing that makes sense. Now, if we were talking about "2 and 2" that would be a different thing entirely... ;-)

    Now on to the article:

  • Karen Stuebing April 3, 2010 08:55 pm

    I'm lazy. I do use my on board flash for fill light. Or to completely black out the background because I don't like it. I just adjust the strength of the flash and either move in or out.

    I just had a shoot in an armory. No way to bounce light so an external flash wouldn't have helped. The light was abysmal and as someone pointed out, artificial lighting makes for some strange color casts.

    I was shooting at ISO400 and still only getting 1/30 top shutter speed. Well, yes, I should have used the prime lens so I could stop up. Another uh duh moment. :)

    I totally agree about noise. I don't have a $3000 camera. I can't go up to ISO 6400. And I have seen many "pros" post noisy images online. You can see the noise at that resolution. Maybe they think noise looks like film grain. It doesn't.

  • Elizabeth Halford April 3, 2010 07:29 pm

    @Steve: ah, yes but 2+2 could also = 22. It's all about POV.

    And I never said that this article was about parents photographing kids or that is wasn't about stock images or images you'd want to have 0 noise. I never even said it was for beginners :) They are my tips for good photos indoors. Noise? Not good.

  • Steve A April 3, 2010 07:23 pm

    Re: Elizabeth "All information is *somoene’s* opinion."

    2+2 = 4 is a fact. Not an opinion. It is good information.

    "ISO over 800 is crap" is an opinion, it is not fact, it is not good information.

    Any photography newcomer coming to this site and reading your article would read your opinion and would likely be scared off of even trying higher ISO settings out, when in fact you can produce all kinds of beautiful results with high ISO settings. Who said anything about wanting to blow an image up to 100% on screen and peep the heck out of those pixels? Or getting their photo's of their kids playing in the kitcken accepted into a stock agency? Those two things have nothing to do with making a nice photo. How about advising that high noise combined with conversion to black and white can be an excellent way to harness high ISO?

    Sorry, I dont want to seem like I'm bashing your advice and being ungrateful. I actually think the rest of the advice you have given is good. :)

  • Steve A April 3, 2010 07:09 pm

    Re: Mike "The above comment makes me wonder how tightly the content on this site is regulated."

    Quite simply, it's not. On what would have been an otherwise acceptable article, just one bad piece of advice like "ISO over 800 is crap" can send it straight down the pan. If any moderator were to have read this, then it would have been edited out.

  • Elizabeth Halford April 3, 2010 06:28 pm

    @Mike: Thank you for taking the time to read and comment to this post. :) While DPS isn't an *actual* school, even in real school, the students are subject to a teacher's p.o.v., opinions and world-view. My statement that any ISO above 800 is 'crap' is, I feel, a perfectly valid point. Sure, higher ISOs provide decent photos for regular sized prints and online sharing, I believe that we should learn to produce images that can be used at any size. If you submit an image to a stock image website and it has noise at 100%, it is rejected. No amount of noise is acceptable and even my 7D produces chunks of blue & red at anything over 800 when viewed at 100%.

    I don't want to inform readers how to take photos that will get by by the skin of their teeth. If I teach them the things they need to know in order to better build their exposure triangle, I'm doing my job.

    "Rather than an absolute statement of opinion regarding ISO, maybe you should think about providing information that gives guidance."

    All information is *somoene's* opinion. There are websites out there like ehow and about.com where readers get cold-hard-facts and heartless how-tos, but DPS is about people helping people through their own experience. In my experience, any ISO above 800 is...well...crap!

    Mike, you also said this which interested me:

    "...knowing how to expose correctly at high ISO sensitivities can yield images that are not only perfectly acceptable, but can be stunningly detailed and noise free, yielding very, very large prints."

    I would really love to read a tutorial from you on this. If you write one, please let us know. I would love to use my camera at higher ISOs with noise-free, stunning detail. If we can share our knowledge rather than just criticise, this will be a happier place of online learning.

    Again - thank you for sharing your thoughts. :*)

  • Brent Pennington April 3, 2010 10:43 am

    Nice article, but I think it forgot the most important thing you can do - use fast glass! A lens with an aperture of f/2.8 or, preferably, faster is ideal for indoor shooting. Fast glass doesn't have to be expensive, either - the "Nifty Fifty" is less than $100 and works great for indoors.

    But otherwise, some good advice - especially getting away from the pop-up. Pop-up flash is a sure way to ruin a good photo!

  • fortunato_uno April 3, 2010 06:32 am

    i have to chime in here for those of us with the low budget dslr's. i shoot with a canon rebel Xsi and often shoot late evening shots. mainly of softball. so i often have to shoot iso of 1600 .when i use my kit lens (18-55 f/3.5-5) i can achieve shutter speeds good enough to catch the action. i think we all know it's about the mix of shutter speed and ap that make the differance at low iso. never mind the fact that my camera came with software that helps eleviate the noise.

  • darren_c April 3, 2010 05:15 am

    High ISO is not your enemy. A lot of the newer DSLRs have much more usable high ISO, and there are so many really good noise reduction plug-in tools available, too. The new Lightroom 3 beta is doing a really good job with noise reduction for both colour and luminance. Sometimes you just have to push your ISO way up there.

    Also, just my take on "available light"... available light is any light you have available to you... if you have a flash in your bag, then you have available light ;)

  • Jeffrey Byrnes April 3, 2010 04:11 am

    ISO 800 on a Canon 5d Mark II is not crap. ISO on a Canon power shot yes. But then again I do not think to many people are going to be trying to make serious portraits with a power shot.

    Good portraits come from good light and a camera that can produce results.

    Light is not your Ally! Light is the primary source in terms of making a photograph aside from you subject matter.

    For a great resource on how to use speedlights, (Canon and Nikon flashes) Check the strobist.com for a wealth a viable information on how to use them off camera.

  • Marcy April 3, 2010 04:09 am

    I love all the tips... except the last one. I use ISO 1600 on my Canon 30D all the time. Sure, if the shot is dark anyway I'll get bad noise. But I've also taken many, many, many great shots where the noise isn't noticeable (at least to me, for my personal use and my family memories). I have an add-on flash that I use from time to time, but I never like the results nearly as much as when I can use natural sunlight. So in most cases I'd rather get the shot w/out the flash, even if it means cranking the ISO 9that's not always an option, clearly, just stating my preference).

    For professionals, the noise concern is big enough so that you probably *don't* want to use higher ISOs. For those of us just taking pictures of our kids, it's an extra tool that can allow you to capture the shot (rather than getting a blur, or missing the moment b/c I'm running off to attach my flash onto the camera).

  • nathan April 3, 2010 04:07 am

    Elizabeth - thanks for the article and the tips. I appreciate that you're willing to invest your time into this forum to help make it better and share your knowledge and experience.

    While I agree that there are times where higher ISO's will work, and there may be styles that lend themselves to that, I disagree that all of that needed to be covered here. I would venture to say that most readers of this blog are not yet "professionals," and as such will benefit more from your advice about staying away from a higher ISO. Those who are professional, who have a camera body that will handle it well, or whose style is more in line with black and white or "grainier" shots, will already be aware of what they can and cannot get away with in this regard.

    For the rest of us, I'm sure many have already realized that taking shots over 800 usually does yield "crap," and if you use a speedlight, you can circumvent that.

    @Mike: "an absolute statement of opinion," ahaha.... sounds like an absolute oxymoron, no? Just sayin.

    Thanks, again!

  • Bill April 3, 2010 04:05 am

    Daniel - if you are seeing noise in your photos at ISO 100, you need to get your camera checked! ISO 100 is the native ISO for most DSLRs, so there shouldn't be any noise. Noise is introduced as you increase the ISO just like the noise on a distant radio station is increased when you turn up the volume. Increasing the ISO only amplifies the output from the sensor; at ISO 100 there is no amplification.

  • Bill April 3, 2010 04:02 am

    I have to disagree on the ISO comment - if the choice is not getting the picture, then crank up the ISO. Also, we're not all shooting for professional purposes - a 4 X 6 print from the local drugstore is hardly gonna suffer because the ISO was too high! Mike hit it on the head! Plus, a lot can be done in post processing using programs like Noise Ninja and Topaz DeNoise. Sorry, but I find it almost unprofessional for a so-called professional writer to make such a blanket statement. Or perhaps you need a better camera!

  • Alan Nielsen April 3, 2010 04:00 am

    I am an available light photographer exclusively!

    My flashes and reflectors are always available. Lol

  • Mike April 3, 2010 03:50 am

    A lot of people learning about photography read this blog. Rather than an absolute statement of opinion regarding ISO, maybe you should think about providing information that gives guidance. With my D300 I have some excellent portraits at ISO 1600 particularly moments with children that could not have been captured otherwise and look fantastic.

    There are times when high ISO will work for the image and times when it won't. There are countless factors including photographic style, environment, equipment, timing, portability, etc. that go into deciding what is or is not "crap."

    Please think about arming those newer to photography with information on how to make decisions and what factors are involved rather than one-size-fits-all opinion in a "5 things" list.

    By choosing the name "Digital Photography School" you have accepted a burden to inform and educate your readers.

  • Chris April 3, 2010 03:47 am

    My Nikon D3S takes excellent pictures above ISO 800, heck it takes good pictures above ISO 6400.

    I don't really have a D3S :-(

  • rossino April 3, 2010 02:40 am

    Absolutely agree with the last point.

    In the beginning i was afraid to use a flash, but it not only reduces the noise in your pictures, it also helps A LOT with colors and contrast. After all, photography is done with light.
    And whenever i made a picture with the use of a flash, even if i could have done it without one, it always had better colors, more contrast and it looked more crisp.

    And also the on-camera-flash is not as good as an off-camera flash, you can´t forget it at home and i think it is quiet good (at least for my 500D).

    What i sometimes do, when i see i can get a shot without the use of a flash, but the light is not that good, i pop-up the on-camera flash and dial in -2EV on the Flash exposure ( i think the fastest way to do it on Canon EOS Rebel Cameras, is to press the SET button and then use the wheel next to the shutter).

    This often helps with the colors and gives a bit contrast, but doesn´t dominate the picture.

    with kind regards

  • Guy Collier April 3, 2010 02:29 am

    Can't agree about the ISO at all Beth. I'm quite happy at 3200 with my bodies. It's not just quantity of light, but quality. A little noise can be dealt with if it bothers you, and it rarely makes a good shot a poor one.

  • Joel Nickerson April 3, 2010 02:10 am

    Great tools for thought. I love being able to utilize flash/strobe technology for indoor photography. I know that if people try it more, they will like it and they’ll get better at it. I couldn’t believe the results I got from simply pointing my hot-shoe flash straight up at a white ceiling and using a “catch-light-card”….sweet stuff. Keep up the good work – I look forward to it.

    Read more: https://digital-photography-school.com/5-tips-for-consistently-good-photos-indoors#ixzz0jxZKLfnD

  • Bill April 3, 2010 01:59 am

    Great article, informative with creative ideas and photos to match.

  • Shannon April 3, 2010 01:44 am

    I absolutely agree with getting away from the pop-up flash. I myself am trying to make friends with my 430 EX II. I think you can reach 1600 with the 5D Mark II fairly safely, but with my entry level camera, I didn't like going above 400.

  • Daniel April 3, 2010 01:27 am

    I absolutely agree about the ISO. I'd even go further: Never shoot over ISO 400 if you can avoid it. And no, I don't mean that for P&S. Heck sometimes even the noise at ISO 100 bothers me and in some rare occasions ISO 1600 is fine but why take a risk with precious memories?

  • Jared Polin April 3, 2010 01:06 am

    I agree with most of the points, though i think they can go into more technical detail for people. But about nixing the iso over 800, i dont agree with that anymore. If this was written a few years ago i would agree but now you can use hi-iso and natural light to your advantage.

    Enjoy shooting
    Jared Polin

  • MeiTeng April 3, 2010 01:02 am

    If there's nothing really interesting happening out of my home, I will definitely try to shoot indoors.

  • Jason Collin Photography April 3, 2010 12:54 am

    Indoor portraits with just a single speedlight, even off camera, can be a real challenge. Depending on the available light and how still your subject is willing to be (will she/he stay near your light stand??).

    I recently had to make a portrait of a pole dancer in a very dark room with just a single speedlight:


    I also disagree about going over ISO 800, kind of. Yes, sub-$1,000 bodies are a bit of a risk at ISO 800 still, even the previous generation $1,600~ body range (on my Nikon D300 I also hesitate going over ISO 800), but there are plenty of DSLRs today that can be great at ISO 1600 and way, way beyond.

  • Greg Taylor April 3, 2010 12:53 am

    I try to have more than one source of light. I like to use an off camera flash with a small remote slave. This way I can have some fill and create some dramatic shadows on the subject. Like anything else in photography take some time and experiment and see what works for you. Don't be afraid to mix ambient light with sunlight and flash. Most of all enjoy yourself.

  • Mike April 3, 2010 12:42 am

    "I don’t care what the manufacturers say: any ISO above 800 is crap!"

    The above comment makes me wonder how tightly the content on this site is regulated. Unless you're shooting with a low-end compact, or a first-generation DSLR from a decade ago, knowing how to expose correctly at high ISO sensitivities can yield images that are not only perfectly acceptable, but can be stunningly detailed and noise free, yielding very, very large prints.

    Comments like this restricted my creativity because I was convinced, for years, that higher ISOs produce "crap" results. After learning the basics of exposure and some very, very simple noise reduction techniques, I've been shooting ISO 3200 on my 20D and 6400 on my 7D and printing as large as 24x60.

    I always take what I read with a grain of salt, but now I'm a little more wary about what is published on this site. Strange that this comment would come from an otherwise skilled and talented photographer.

  • Jen at Cabin Fever April 3, 2010 12:36 am

    I LOVE taking photos indoors. Being that I live in a cabin it is actually too dark for photos sometimes so I have learned clever ways to maximize light and where to take photos. Like you, my kitchen seems to be the brightest and best spot.

    The lightscoop seems like an AWESOME product. I am seriously considering purchasing one considering how much photography I do indoors during the -20 degree winter days!

  • scott April 3, 2010 12:35 am

    I have great results at ISO 1600 on my Canon 7D. The manufacturers are slowly getting to a point where higher ISOs are acceptable, even on the APS-C.

  • Joel Nickerson April 3, 2010 12:31 am

    Great tools for thought. I love being able to utilize flash/strobe technology for indoor photography. "Available light photographer" screams 'amatuer' to me as I know too many that are great 'outdoor wedding photogs' but have weak 'snapshot' images at indoor receptions. I know that if people try it more, they will like it and they'll get better at it. I couldn't believe the results I got from simply pointing my hot-shoe flash straight up at a white ceiling and using a "catch-light-card"....sweet stuff. Keep up the good work - I look forward to it.

  • Anthony Hereld April 3, 2010 12:30 am

    I loathe taking family pictures, especially @ events and holidays. It seems like the composition and lighting are never ideal. Especially indoors.

  • David April 3, 2010 12:27 am

    On ISOs above 800... I'm assuming you are referring to the current crop of point and shoot cameras. This doesn't really apply to larger sensors.

  • Fredrick April 3, 2010 12:22 am

    Completely disagree on the ISO claim (#5). Have you seen the images you can get out of a 7D at ISO 1600 or 3200? They are quite acceptable for average sized prints and online web galleries.

  • pat April 3, 2010 12:21 am

    about the high ISO comment, while I agree that pictures over a certain iso tend to look mushy, its really more about the quality of light than the sensor's ability to produce clean, vibrant images. shooting indoors with available light is hard to do, nasty artificial light has a very tiny color spectrum, plus, the lack of contrast doesn't help either. knock back your iso to 200 and those colors and murky contrast will still be there. grab a speedlight and offshoe cord and don't look back. =)