5 ways to improve your indoor photos

by Mary Jane

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It seems like so many of the fun occasions that we want to capture, happen indoors. And so often they are lit by the glow of birthday candles or the sweet burning embers of the fireplace. Now that is all fine and well – but COME ON – it makes photography almost impossible!

There are undoubtedly times that you will have to use flash, but there are many times that you can utilize beautiful natural light with a little planning!

1.) ASSESS THE LIGHTING SITUATION

Face your subjects towards the light (preferably a nice big window)!

You know that once things get started you can’t realistically say, “Oh, can you open that present again and look just as surprised and excited but face towards the window this time?” So, as you’re planning the festivities and the way everything is going to go down – always keep light in the forefront of your mind. Ask yourself two simple questions – 1) when and where is the best natural light in the room? and 2) where do people have to be so that I can take advantage of it?

Do.this.first!

And don’t be afraid to plan the festivities at a certain time so you can get the best light!

I can’t tell you how many times I didn’t take the 5 minutes to do this… And I ended up kicking myself the entire time!

Canon 5D Mark II, 50mm 1.2 • ISO 1600, 1/400 @ f/2.2

2.) HIGH(er) ISO

ISO is definitely one of the things I get questions about the most. Without going into a full explanation here – in lower light situations (like indoors) you will need to use a high ISO like 800 or even 1600. While your ISO may be high, you still want to keep it as low as you can and still get an exposure that works.

People always ask about the issue of noise when shooting at higher ISOs. I would rather shoot at a higher ISO and get the correct exposure – than underexpose (which also creates noise) or shoot at too slow of a shutter speed which can cause blurry, unclear photos (which in IMHO is much worse than a little noise).

Canon 5D Mark II, 50mm 1.2 • ISO 1600, 1/400 @ f/2.2

3.) CHOOSE A WIDE F/STOP

Now, when I say wide – I don’t mean you have to shoot as wide as the lens will go. Honestly, not much is going to be in focus if you’re shooting an active toddler blowing out their birthday candles at f/1.2. So, choose an f/stop that is wide, but also realistic to what you are shooting. If you’re like me, you love images that are in focus, so don’t sacrifice that!

A wider f/stop will help to keep your ISO as low as you can (even though it will still be high) and it will also help with eliminating background clutter (which is the next thing on my list).

Canon 5D Mark II, 50mm 1.2 • ISO 1600, 1/400 @ f/2.2

4.) ELIMINATE BACKGROUND CLUTTER

I know one of the most daunting things about shooting indoors is dealing with all of the clutter that makes up our houses and our lives. But, never fear! There are ways to get around it and no one will have to see your dirty kitchen.

I often like to use a person behind my subject as a mask for the background. As you can see I strategically placed Mark behind Piper with his plain white t-shirt. (OK, so he was also there to make sure she didn’t fall on her head) but it was a great way to hide our washer and dryer in the background. And it included daddy in the picture which is always good!

Get in close! So often we make the action such a small part of the photo, when really it’s what we want to see. So get in there – focus on the hands, the face, the expressions!

As I mentioned before, a wider f/stop will create background blur which will severely lessen the effect of a distracting, clutter-filled background.
Canon 5D Mark II, 50mm 1.2 • ISO 1600, 1/400 @ f/2.2

Canon 5D Mark II, 50mm 1.2 • ISO 1600, 1/400 @ f/2.2

5.) TURN OFF THE INDOOR LIGHTS

Unless the lights are putting out enough light to help with the exposure – turn them off! Most likely they are just making some really weird, unwanted color shifts in your photos. Indoor lights have a much warmer tone to them than window light – so it honestly just confuses things. I recommend keeping your photos clean and simple – and it’s less work on the back-end.

I wish that I had turned off these little overhead lights for this Easter egg shoot – but you can’t win them all I guess!

Canon 5D Mark II, 50mm 1.2 • ISO 1600, 1/500 @ f/1.8

Canon 5D Mark II, 50mm 1.2 • ISO 1600, 1/500 @ f/1.8

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

stacey June 7, 2012 at 7:28 pm

thanks for all the really great tips – i always forget to turn off those overhead lights and this is such a really good reminder…. thanks for this!

Mary Jane June 9, 2012 at 2:51 am

I forget sometimes too because I am so caught up in the moment – but it’s always better when I remember to shut them off! :)

Katy Fritts January 8, 2013 at 12:49 am

So, if you place the baby facing the light of the window – where do you stand? To the side? I keep having weird shadows when trying to do my shots (part of this is my inability to do all the settings on our Nikon D80 the right way).

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