Topic Progress:

Finding good indoor light

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? Let us give you a few tips.

If your light is poor, you can generally do 3 things to it:

1. Change yours or the subject’s position
2. Make your camera / lens work harder
3. Bring more light in

Get those three things embedded in your brain and apply one after another until something works. You’ll be thanking me!

Let’s look at them in more detail:

Step 1 – Change yours of 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? 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 also dark shadows. The intensity of light is always matched by the intensity of shadows.

    If the sun is not directly opposite your window you are going to get more of a ‘fill’ light, with an overall gentler outcome and softer shadows

  • Your child’s position relative to the light

    3 basic scenarios for you:

    Facing the light, away from the light and on the fringes of the light

    1. Your child is facing 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. I’m sure I have said it myself several times in this bootcamp. In this scenario, your child is facing the window and you are facing your child with the window behind you.

    It can be hard getting them to face the window directly, and to still find a space for you and your camera there at times, so the alternative is to position yourself alongside and capture them from a side.

    2. The window is on a side of your child

    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.

    3. The window is backlighting your child

    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.

    Your position with regards to the light

    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 capture them.

    Step 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. One is to make your camera more sensitive to light ( so it makes more out of what to has) and that’s to manipulate your ISO setting. Not something you can usually do in Auto, but if you are used to shooting in priority or manual, you should look into it.

    The other way 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 in the last module of the bootcamp course. Fast, wide aperture lenses are worth their weight in gold if you ask me and well worth investing in.

    Step 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, you don’t like it – none does. 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)

    Day 5 challenge

    I would like you to see the difference that yours and your child positioning in relation to light makes. I would like you to take 3 photos:

    1. your subject facing the window with you between them and the window ( you should have the window behind your back)

    2. your subject facing the window and you on their side, with the window on the side

    3. your subject side to the window and you facing them.

    If you have a baby, I totally appreciate that this makes things complicated. Just place them somewhere relatively close to the window, don’t worry about where they’re facing but YOU change your position around them – have a go from 3 different sides and see the difference it makes.