You would probably love to have ideal lighting conditions for every shoot, especially if you are strictly an outdoor, natural light photographer. However there are many situations when the lighting is not ideal. Think winter, rain or even harsh midday sun. Sometimes you are stuck indoors, or your client wants to have a photoshoot inside their home. When used correctly, natural light indoors can be just as pleasing as outdoor lighting and can also provide opportunity for some creative portraiture with contrast, shadows, and drama. Here are some tips to get the most out of your photography using natural light shoot.
#1 Know your environment and know the light
Like any situation, do your research before you start photographing indoors. Many times the direction of the house, the position of the windows, along with the time of year plays an important part in the amount of light coming through. Is your house North-South facing or East-West? What are sunrise and sunset times where you live, or where you are going to be photographing? Does the room have a sunroof that lets in additional light? Light also changes depending on the time of day. As light changes, so does the color of light. This directly affect the white balance (WB) of the image. If your camera has the ability to shoot in RAW use it, as white balance can then be adjusted in post-processing. If you really want to get it right in camera, experiment with the Kelvin scale.
When planning a shoot in your home, take several shots the day before to analyze what time is best for the light. Sometimes this is not possible especially if you are going to a client’s home or photographing a venue. But this is where a little prep work goes a long way. Don’t be afraid to ask these questions or even google the venue to check it out online.
#2 Know how to use window light to your advantage
One of the best sources of natural light indoors are windows. Learn how to use them to your advantage. In general, the closer you are to the window, the more light you will have to use and work with. Where you place your subject in relation to the window light will affect the image dramatically. There are three different scenarios for using window light:
- Sidelight with the window: Here the subject is parallel or at a slight angle, to the window. Depending on the time of day and amount of light, this may yield images that have more contrast especially with midday sun streaming through the window.
- Backlit by the window: Here the subject is sitting with their back to the window facing the photographer. You will need to meter for the subject and blowout the highlights to properly expose the image for the person. The other option is to expose for the highlights, as in the window and get an indoor silhouette. You can also use a reflector to pop light back onto the subject’s face.
- Front lit by the window: Here the subject is directly facing the window, you are between the window and your subject. This type of lighting position produces the most even light of all the three.
#3 Know your settings and equipment
Remember your exposure triangle; the relationship between ISO, f-stop (aperture) and shutter speed. This plays an important role in indoor photography. Choosing a fast enough shutter speed will eliminate any camera shake if you are not using a tripod. Choosing a wide aperture (low f-stop number) will provide a shallow depth of field and blur out the background (particularly useful if there is some clutter around the house). Choosing a larger ISO provides more light; particularly useful if there isn’t much natural light coming indoors. Most of the newer DSLRs have a large range of ISO and handle high ISOs really well. Plus there are tools to help reduce noise in the image during post-processing if you want a less grainy look.
#4 Use open hallways, doors, or even the garage to emulate a situation of open shade
If for some reason you are not able to use window light to illuminate the subject (due to inaccessibility to a window ), you can use open hallways, doorways or even a garage to emulate a situation of open shade. Have the subject sit close to the edge of the doorway and face the light.
#5 Know when to use a reflector and a diffuser
A reflector and diffuser are great tools to use for indoor portraits. A diffuser softens the window light just like a white curtain or blinds. It is particularly useful for windows that have harsh midday sun streaming through. A reflector used in conjunction with window light, can add just the right amount of light bounce-back to dramatically improve your indoor portraits (especially for sideand backlit images).
The next time the weather gods decide to ruin all your perfectly laid out plans to have an outdoor, natural light, photoshoot, don’t rush to reschedule your session. Try and experiment with natural light indoors and diversify your portfolio. If you want to use other forms of indoor lighting check out the article from the dPS archives on creating indoor portraits without flash.
For another dPS writer’s tips for using natural light read Melinda Smith’s Tips For Great Indoor Portraits Using Natural Light.
Do you have any other tips for using natural light indoors? Please share those and your images in the comments section.