Flash photography may be the most popular mode of taking pictures because so many important events take place indoors. People love documenting the activities of their family and even their pets around the house. With birthdays, weddings, anniversaries and holidays a lot of special occasions happen indoors.
The standard flash shot is fairly straight forward. Place the subject well within the range of coverage stated in your flash’s manual. Check to see if you have a reasonably uncluttered background that won’t detract from your subject. Help them to pose in a way they prefer and then shoot. When you have the opportunity to experiment try including the light from a window to reduce the harsh shadows produced by the flash and to help illuminate the background more evenly.
Next try to supplement your flash by placing light sources such as lamps at different angles off camera in front of the subject as well as toward the background if you can. If you can make a scene more evenly lighted the result will be more pleasing. There are differences in the qualities of the color of light produced by daylight, incandescent lights and fluorescent bulbs including the newer compact fluorescent lamp that’s replacing incandescent bulbs. These differences will show up in your pictures and may not always be pleasing.
There are ways to partially compensate for this problem. Look for daylight-balanced CFL bulbs at stores such as Lowe’s and Home Depot. Try adjusting the color balance as needed with your camera settings. You’ll have one last opportunity to improve the color balance when you’re doing photo editing. If you’re willing to make the investment there are whole lighting systems available that are portable, powerful and surprisingly flexible to many situations. They will provide features such as off camera flash, a second flash, bounce flash and umbrellas that bounce an even and constant light. You can expect to get professional portraiture results from these setups after you learn to use them properly.
Flash is the easiest and most reliable way to take indoor pictures. There are other ways. When you’re feeling particularly creative try existing light.
Existing Light Indoors
Existing light means the light sources that are in the room regardless of your intention to take a picture. Examples are electric lamps, fireplaces, candles and the natural daylight coming in through a window. If you’re tempted to move the existing light sources around or to pull the curtain at the window to get better results that shouldn’t be a problem.
Your camera’s flash will have to stay turned off in its case until we discuss ‘fill flash’. You can achieve superior results using existing light and your motivation is the challenge to make it work for you plus the unique pictures you’ll produce. There is another issue to consider with multiple existing light sources and that issue is shadows. To head off this problem practice looking at both the lighted areas and the shadow areas on your subject. Remember each light source is casting shadows somewhere on your subject and they will not always be complimentary.
Since you are working only with existing light you may be required to move things around a bit, including your subject if possible, or find ways to vary the intensity of some light sources. For example you might be able to place a white piece of paper between an offending light bulb and your subject to produce a more soft and pleasing light source.
Below is my picture of the interior of an old bus terminal. The area is way too large for flash. The various lighting sources are actually in conflict in some ways. Any time you have large amounts of bright sunlight flowing into an area other light sources will tend to be washed out. That’s not the biggest problem in this picture. From my point-of-view the big problem is the greenish cast from the many florescent light fixtures in the area.
Later we’ll discuss using filters to overcome some lighting issues. Fluorescent filters will help improve the greenish cast from fluorescent bulbs. Because not all florescent bulbs are the same this filter will give variable results. As mentioned above each light source has its own characteristics to consider such as intensity and color temperature. How to compose the image and what settings to use can be very much a judgment call on your part and that process improves with experience and by knowing your equipment.
In the shot above the shutter speed was set slow to allow for the greatest possible depth of field. This is a hand held shot. A tripod might have been a good idea here. Digital cameras don’t always have an automatic setting that deals with conflicting light sources adequately. If you have a camera that allows manual settings learn how to apply the right settings to get the results you want.
I consider my Fallingwater interior shot to have two light sources. Since Fallingwater is in a wooded area and also in a valley there is a small amount of direct sunlight and a lot of daylight that is indirect and scattered. I suggest a basic shot composition that includes some of the view out through the window and then follows the sunlight onto various interior elements such as the mirror and the wall. The view out the window only needs to suggest trees so the sharpest focus will be on the interior objects receiving the sunlight. The section of wooded area that shows is too bright.
Tips for Working Indoors
Limited Space – Another consideration for shooting indoors is dealing with limited space. A wide angle lens will provide the effect of backing up 20 feet, for example, in an apartment that only gives you 10 feet of working room. However, don’t overlook the possibility of rearranging the furniture temporarily as another option to get your shot.
Clean Up the View – Working indoors gives you improved ability to control the view and to remove unwanted elements. Look closely and you may spot a piece of paper, a power cord, or some other object that detracts from your image. Indoors you often have the option to move such items while you take the shot.
Props – you might bring an object or find an object in another room that improves your shot. That item could be a pet, an attractive rug, a vase with flowers or whatever you think belongs in the view.
Consider Your Stance – It is often helpful to think of several final items behind the lens before you shoot: hold the camera straight and choose you best vantage point whether it be against a wall or half way up a staircase. Try to shoot from a high angle for some shots and decide if that angle improves the general aesthetics of the image.