WATCH TODAY'S LESSON
First things first. Light in most British homes sucks. The combination of our geographic position, frequent overcast skies and generally small homes just makes this one a tough one to crack. Literally everyone struggles with it. But some people still manage to take good indoor photos, so how do they do this?
The short answer is: skillfully.
The long answer is : with full understanding of their gear and settings and lenses that maximize the cameras sensitivity to light, cameras that are good with low light and above all a great understanding of how light works with your camera.
Obviously, this is not something we can give you in one lesson - in our full courses we have a full week in both Fundamentals and Advanced course dedicated to light - our recent advanced Advanced cohort are learning low key / low light photography at the moment as it happens.
But, I can give you some tips and strategies that will get you some way there.
Here is what it boils down to:
Strategy 1 – Change yours or your subject’s position relative to the light
Let’s find your light first.
Look around your place:
- Where is the light coming from? If you have multiple light sources, which one gives you the best light? Does it vary from one time of the day to another? For instance, I have a through lounge which is much brighter on the garden end in the morning but then I get much better light from the front end in the afternoon.
- What kind of light is it? Hard or soft? If it’s a sunny day, where is the sun in relation to your window? If it’s shining right in, you’ll be seeing strong light streaming through. But if it's not shining directly into your window, your light will be softer.
The light will always be coming from somewhere.
Now that you know where you light is coming from, let's make sure that you are working WITH and not AGAINST light
To make the most of the light you have in our home, you need to really learn to see and visualise it so that you can understand whether you are working WITH light or AGAINST light.
Working WITH light means your SUBJECT is benefitting from full or at least partial beam of the light shining onto them. This means it's illuminating their features and shining onto the part of them you want to photograph. In most cases this will mean they are facing the light source.
Working AGAINST the light is when the subject is between the light and you and you are shooting TOWARDS the light. Your camera might be getting the full beam of light getting into the lens but your subject is effectively creating their own shadow and to make them look good, will be a real struggle for your camera.
Best case scenario, your image will turn into a silhouette.
You need to move either yourself or your child to actually get some benefit here.
Make your child face the light
This seems like the most obvious one – and in many ways for good reasons. If you want your child in good light, make them face it.
As for you - the photographer - if there is space, you can get yourself between the window and your child ( so that the window is behind your back) or approach it from the side ( with the window pointing at your shoulder)
Place your child with their side to the light
So they basically get good light from one side and have a bit more shadows on the other side of their face. Depending on the time of the day and the angle of the sun behind your window, you may find that the shadows will be deeper or softer. It’s generally a really flattering angle for portraits as it allows you to create a really soft, sculpting light which creates a real 3D quality to your subject. Again, the more intense the light, the deeper your shadows will be so play with the light in that knowledge.
And if he window is backlighting your child - make silhouettes!
This is the scenario which often causes people lots of problems but one that you can turn into an opportunity to create a silhouette. A small warning here – in my experience, when you;re shooting on auto, silhouettes appear when you really didn’t plan for them but somehow fail to work when you;re trying for them. We do teach how to take them with either priority or manual settings in our course but there is not enough space for it here so I’m just signalling this is one of the outcomes you might expect.
Ok, I get it. I do. Kids do not always take kindly to being told to go and stay in particular places and rarely want to stay there.
But you – YOU – can still move, and it does make a world difference.
If your child is between you and the light, and you are the one facing the light, you will always always always struggle to capture them well because they will be creating their own shadow and effectively reducing the light on their face, even if they’re close to the window with plenty of light streaming in.
But if you move so that you have the light on the side or behind you, they will still get the benefit of light and you will find it a lot easier to photograph them.
Strategy 2. Make your camera work harder
This is when things get a little technical and require you to get out of auto settings, so I’ll only signal them here.
There are 2 ways of making your camera go further with poor light.
1. Increase camera's light sensitivity
One is to make your camera more sensitive to light ( so it makes more out of what to has) and that’s to raise your ISO setting.
Not something you can usually do in Auto, but if you are used to shooting in priority modes or manual, you should look into it.
Your ISO Range
Your ISO range will usually go from 100 to 3200 or even higher.]
The smaller the number, the more light your camera will need to expose an image correctly - this means, it will need longer time to do it, and this means much more chance of blur.
Higher ISO number, you camera can make do with less light - so it's better in situations and places that have less light in general.
When I shoot outdoors, I will usually have my iso somewhere between 100 - 400
I almost never have my ISO lower than 400 indoors and that's with fast lenses (more on that in a moment). I am much more likely to keep it at 800.
The downside to hight ISO is that you can get quite a lot of grain in your image - how much will depend from camera to camera, but in general the newer models will perform better.
2. Change your lens for a faster one
The other way is to get more out of your camera is to get a lens with a wide aperture which will allow more light to get into your camera in shorter time.
I’ll be giving you some tips on those tomorrow in a post about lenses and cameras.
Fast, wide aperture lenses are worth their weight in gold if you ask me and well worth investing in.
Strategy 3. Bring more light in.
Sometimes it couldn’t be simpler. Removing obstacles like net curtains, window plants etc can make surprisingly a lot of difference. Opening the door to another bright room and letting the light spill out is something people rarely think of but can be very effective. Turning on ALL the lights can be effective too – sometimes the light you’ll get may not be the most attractive but at times, that’s better than nothing.
Finally Flash – I know, I know, you've been warned, you don’t like it.
But good flash, used well can make the ugliest and darkest of spaces look like it’s bathed in natural light. But even the less than attractive pop up flash has its uses. I always say that it’s better to have an imperfect photo of the perfect moment, than to miss on photographing it for fear of not having the right equipment, ambience, light etc.
So if you tried all the above options and it’s either turning on your pop up flash or nothing at all – just switch that baby on. I give you my blessing. ( and if you want to learn how to use a proper flashgun correctly at some point in the future, check out our flash course – Game changer I believe the students called it)
Even the most basic pop-up flash can be controlled too. You should find a function on your camera called Flash exposure compensation which when dialled down, will lower the brightness of your flash and will help you get a more natural looking image. They are not in all cameras, so if you're unsure check your manual.
Lesson 4 Challenge
Capture your child somewhere indoors where they can benefit from the most light!