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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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.