6 Tips for Better Indoor Photos

As winter draws in, I do find myself shooting indoors more often, which presents it's own set of challenges - working in smaller locations, and dealing with less light are the two that spring first to mind!  I used to shy away from shooting indoors, but as much of our normal, everyday lives take place indoors,  it was important to me to get more comfortable with shooting there! 

Here are my tips for improving your indoor photos: 

1) Look for the Light

Before you do anything else, find spots in your house that have good natural light.  Generally speaking this is going to be in rooms that have good sized windows or doors that can let in a lot of the available natural light.   If you are struggling to get enough light in a room, pull back the curtains / blinds or open shutters and doors - you will be amazed at the amount of extra light you can get into a room that way.  Too much light? Go the other way and close the drapes a bit or hang a white sheet over your windows to diffuse the light. 

Remember too, that although you need light for an image, you don't always need a great deal of light - look for patches of light in darker rooms, or move your subject physically closer to the light source to maximise the light on your subject.  This image below is taken in my kitchen, which is a pretty dark room due to a hedge right outside my window that blocks most of the light, to combat this, I simply move my subject closer to the window. (and I nag my husband to cut down the hedge, but that's another story)  

This recent post on using window light for portraits will get you started and give you some good ideas on how to light your subject. 

2) Set your White Balance

I always prefer to set my white balance in camera, but even more so when shooting indoors since Auto White Balance is not particularly reliable, especially if you have unnatural light sources.   My preferred method is using an Expodisc (well worth the money in my opinion!) but I have also used a grey card or Kelvin.  You can see six ways to set your white balance here, but If none of those appeal to you, then simply choose the closest available preset in your camera.

The other important thing to note is that you only want ONE source of light - so if you have light from a window and light from the lamp, turn the lamp off. 

3) Maximise Light with your Camera Settings

Now that you have found a position with lots of nice natural light, you want to make sure that you get as much light as possible to reach the camera sensor.  Choose a low aperture number (as low as you think you can get away with!), and keep your shutter speed as low as you can without risking motion blur.  Your ISO can be your balancer - once you have your aperture and shutter speed set the way you want it, get your perfect exposure by setting your ISO. Keep your ISO as low as possible whilst still getting correct exposure (don't be tempted to underexpose, that just makes grain worse!)  If you are using a kit lens, then you might struggle with getting enough light into the camera - my suggestion would be to upgrade your kit lens to a prime lens that stops down quite low - something like the super affordable Canon 50mm F1.8 is ideal. (This is one reason I love shooting with primes - that ability to let more light into the camera via your aperture) However, don't sweat having to increase your ISO if you have to, you can fix that in processing to a degree, and to be honest, I don't mind a bit of grain particularly in lifestyle images

4) Turn off Your Flash

On camera flash is deeply unflattering and totally unforgiving, and you will get a much, much nicer picture without it. If you take a lot of images indoors, and really feel like you need the extra light that flash gives, the best thing to do is to modify the light. A cheap and cheerful solution that works absolute wonders is a Lightscoop which sits over your on-camera flash and works by redirecting the light to bounce of the walls and ceilings and thereby avoiding the worst of the above problems - you can read my review of it here.  A more expensive solution is a speed light.  However, I would try all the above FIRST (using rooms with larger windows / doors, positioning you subject closer to the light source, and opening up your aperture) - as often this can be enough. 

5) Watch for Clutter 

Of course, shooting indoors also means capturing some of the clutter that can be found in most homes!  I have two ways of dealing with this depending on what I am shooting. If it is a portrait style shot, or I want something clean, then I aim to simplify the scene - you can read more about how I do that in this post about shooting in cluttered locations so I won't go into that here. 

However, if it is lifestyle / documentary I like to include more of the surroundings.  As I don't believe your home needs to look perfect, I generally don't tidy up too much (and not at all if it is adding to the story - for example the chaos of christmas morning) but what I will do is try to watch for objects growing out of my subjects head, or any stray items that pull the eye away from my subject.  A two second move of a plant can do wonders for the overall composition of the image, and it does not detract from the "honesty" of the moment. It's still good practice to consider everything in your frame, even in lifestyle photography! The other thing that helps minimise distractions is a large aperture - it helps blur everything into submission :) 

6) Use Composition To Enhance Everyday Images

There are a wealth of different composition tools available to you indoors - framing, leading lines and negative space are the usual ones to be found easily in the home!  Using composition can lift an everyday mundane activity at home into something more engaging so take a moment to try to frame your shot using at least one composition technique - you can find 10 general composition ideas here. 

I hope you have enjoyed these tips for shooting indoors! As usual, if you have any questions, feel free to ask.