Inspired by a comment I received on my Facebook page I have decided to do a post every month answering a question that relates to the Home Life Photography Project. This month we are tackling a very seasonal problem, how do you take good photos indoors?
Know where the natural light is in your house
Getting to know your own house will serve you well not just for this project but every time you need to photograph anything. We actually have a bit of white mounting board permanently in our bedroom because I know that every time I need to take a picture of something static (things I’m selling on eBay, food photography) the best place to do it is by the balcony doors in our bedroom. I am not suggesting that you try and contrive your family activities around the spots in your house that have good light, but if you know where those spots are, you will find you are more likely to grab the camera when you see or hear activity in those places.
At this time of year when hours of daylight are limited and light levels can be minimal, you have to cut yourself a little bit of slack. In my house the light levels are best in this room which has a floor to ceiling southerly window and a large westerly window…
And also in our bedroom which is directly above this room and receives the same southerly light through a pair of double doors. It’s where my sister took all the great photos of Alice’s birth. But there is another place in our house that is less obvious. Our north facing bathroom which is almost completely decorated in white. White surfaces act as a giant reflector and ensure what light there is is amplified.
We have some rooms with not so good light too. Our kitchen doesn’t get much natural light and the halogen spots in the ceiling cast very unflattering shadows. Alice’s easterly bedroom also has less light than some of the other rooms. If you don’t have large windows there is still one big source of natural light that every house has… the front door!
I know it’s a bit chilly at this time of year, but you will probably open it a few times during the day when you are shooting so take advantage of those moments. Emily Beale has taken some brilliant photos of her son both inside and outside her house using the natural light that is quite literally on her doorstep….
Know when the light is
At this time of year natural light is at it’s best from about 8:30am – 4pm. Again I’m not telling you to contrive to do everything around those times, just to be aware that that is the best window of time to capture the bulk of your photos. Bookending your series with pictures taken in low light will add atmosphere, but if they are all sludgy brown colour it doesn’t look great.
Turn off artificial light if you don’t need it
A mixture of natural and artificial light can muck up your white balance and make it very hard to get the colours in your photo correct. So if you don’t need artificial lights turn them off, even if they aren’t in the same room as you. Last week I was taking photos of Theo on our bed next to those big glass doors that I mentioned earlier. In the first few photos I accidentally left the bathroom light on and the artificial light bled through into the bedroom. Once I switched it off I was able to get the lovely natural light in its purest form
Take control of your camera
When I was learning to use my SLR I used to hate it when tutorials said “switch to manual” – it would terrify me, but it’s easier than it may seem, so do keep reading!
Firstly let’s look at the three components in what is commonly called the exposure triangle.
Aperture – This is also known as your “F Stop” most zoom lenses won’t open up any further than F/3.5 which is why you will often hear people recommending fast or prime lenses which trade the ability to zoom for a wider aperture range. These lenses will open up as wide as F/1.4 or F/1.8 and let a lot more light in. If you are wondering how wide you can safely open the aperture when photographing people to ensure everyone is in focus, try this general rule of thumb, the first number of the F stop should match the number of people in the shot. One person? F/1.4 or F/1/8 is fine…
Shutter speed – This is how long the camera keeps the shutter open to capture the exposure. Too long and you may get a blurry subject or camera shake. The rule of thumb on this one is that in order to avoid camera shake the slowest shutter speed you should use is the one that matches your focal length. So for a 50mm lens that would be 1/50.
ISO – ISO measures your cameras sensitivity to light and as it increases you get grain in your photos. Too much is not a good thing, but here that line is varies hugely depending on your camera model. So here is a very rough guide to the safest maximum ISO to use, pick the ISO number that matches the RRP (not what you actually paid) of your camera.
And finally there is one more thing you can do to let in more light which is use your exposure compensation. This setting will allow you to over expose your photos by up to an additional 3 or 5 stops. Find it on your camera and use it!
Now EXPERIMENT start at the beginning of your Home Life Project day as it starts to get light (say 8am) Switch to manual and try the maximum settings on your camera that I have guided you through above. For now ignore the aperture/number of people rule and just pick the smallest number your lens will do. So… Aperture – smallest number (probably f/3.5 on a zoom, or f/1.8 on a prime) Shutter speed – To match your focal length (35mm lens? 1/30 shutter speed) ISO – Number which approximately matches the RRP of your camera Take a photo… of anything!
Is it too dark? Find the exposure compensation and turn the dial… +0.3? +0.7? +1.0? Keep going and watch the image get lighter.
Embrace the available darkness
We focus a lot on how to make our pictures light and bright, but dark and moody pictures can be very atmospheric. I recently took a series of photos using only the light produced by an iPad.This style of photography is known as “low key” and it can produce some really interesting images.
You can also find lots of inspiring low key photography ideas on Instagram. I would try searching for either #lowkeyphotography or #light_inspired. While you are on Instagram, don’t forget to follow me and to use the hashtag #homelifeproject if sharing any of this weekend’s photos.
Questions? Read all about it here.