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Tips For Great Indoor Portraits Using Natural Light


You don’t have to have an amazing dedicated photography studio to get great shots indoors. Most homes have at least one or two spots that work just fine. You don’t have to have a lot of additional equipment, in fact, these tips will help you take indoor photos with just your camera and natural window light (and even incandescent light in a pinch).180

Seek the best light

Take a tour of the home you are going to shoot in to scout out the best light. I’ve done newborn sessions in a kitchen multiple times because that’s where the light was best. Often times bedrooms are little havens of sunshine as well. It might not be the room with the prettiest furniture, but that’s okay. Light is most important to me, and the other things in the room are secondary.

Eliminate clutter or simplify

Once you’ve found some nice light, do all that you can to eliminate clutter in the area you are going to shoot. Move distracting objects if possible; it’s much easier to move them before you shoot than to try to take them out later in post-processing. If you can’t avoid clutter, try getting in close to your subject.


Shooting in low light

Most of the time I shoot indoors with my 50mm f/1.4 lens on a full-frame body (try a 35mm lens on an APS-C or cropped sensor). It gives me enough space to get everything in the photo that I want, and gives me the ability to open the aperture wide enough to take photos in poorly lit rooms, if needed. Other lenses can work just as well, depending on what you are trying to achieve, but this is the lens that I have found has the most versatility for my indoor shooting.

You will often need to push the ISO higher if you don’t have a lot of natural light coming in. I prefer some noise, or grain, to the look of a flash, so this doesn’t bother me too much. Ideally you’ll want to shoot on days with plenty of sunlight, and a time of day when you have plenty of light indoors. This isn’t the situation to shoot in the golden hour, right before sunset. You might want to try late morning or early afternoon for more natural light.


Direction of light is important to create mood

When you are shooting with natural window light, pay attention to the direction the light is coming in, just as you would when shooting outdoors with the sun. You can have a beautiful hazy backlit photo, or a dimensional dramatic side-lit photo, or a flattering crisp photo lit directly from the front. Decide what mood you’d like in your photo, and also pay attention to the space you have to maneuver, and any clutter that may be in the background. 451

Mixed lighting situations

Sometimes you have to just work with what you’ve got. If you’re forced to shoot with incandescent lighting, you can still get some meaningful photos. Try not to have incandescent lighting and natural window lighting fighting to light your subject at the same time. It usually creates a crazy white balance issue, and it’s hard to make right, unless you just convert the photo to black and white. I’ll usually turn overhead lighting off, unless there is absolutely not enough light without it, or I’m shooting in a situation where I don’t have control over where the action happens.


Fitting it all in the shot

At times I have had to be very creative to get everything in the photo that I need to include. You can always use a wider angle lens, but that can distort things, and you might not want that look. I’ve stood on counter tops in the kitchen, on beds (watch out for ceiling fans-I’ve had a couple of close calls when I wasn’t paying attention), and wedged myself behind furniture. Anything for a good shot, right?



One last tip: Sometimes you may not be sure exactly where the best spot is for the lighting you’re hoping for. Don’t be afraid to experiment, and move your subject around until you’re happy with the way everything looks. If I have a newborn on a blanket, it’s a simple thing to rotate the blanket around until I like the way the light rests on his face.

Don’t be afraid to get your camera out indoors! With some practice and experimentation, you’ll find lots of ways to make great photos without any extra equipment.



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Melinda Smith
Melinda Smith

was born to be a teacher. She teaches violin lessons and fitness classes, as well as photography classes and mentoring. She lives on a mini farm in Eastern Utah with her camera, husband, kids, chickens, horses, bunnies, dogs, and cats. Visit her at Melinda Smith Photography.

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