Friday, January 15, 2010

Creative Lighting Indoors

Ladies and Gentlemen, this photo was shot in my house after sunset. Can you guess how? Better question, can you guess where in my house it was shot? Let's see if anyone can answer correctly.

Let's talk about lighting. It's what photography is all about. Learning how to control light is the most vital part of being a photographer and yet there are still many who protest the usage of anything except available light. Personally I find the idea very limiting. So many of the places we find ourselves in are riddled with lighting issues. A few examples: night clubs, concert halls, every cathedral ever built, and most peoples homes. As a photographer my job is to use light to capture emotion. When improper light exists, I feel it's my responsibility to correct the deficiency.

So now you're thinking "That's great Irene, but how do I take a nice photo of my kid when it's raining outside." Here's some suggestions.

  1. Review the light available. Do you have any north or south facing windows or doors? Can you use the window light? I say north of south facing simply because on a bright day the light coming from these directions is more dispersed and usable for a longer period of time.  If you answered yes, you may already have all the light you need. If not, add a reflector. I have pop up reflectors and white foam core that I use all the time to reduce contrast and unwanted shadows. 
  2. If the window light isn't enough you have two choices. Slow shutter speed or flash. Maybe even a combo of the two depending on your application. I'd also recommend a good tripod for shutter speeds lower then 1/125 or if you have a vibration reduction lens 1/60. I can sometimes hand hold for shutter speeds as low as 1/20 but it's risky. Make sure to brace yourself against a hard surface and breathe out when you push the shutter release to reduce camera shake. It's also a good idea to put your elbows in to your chest for greater stability. Keep in mind also that portraits at slow shutter speeds are difficult since people cannot hold perfectly still. 
  3. Add flash to eliminate a multitude of problems and add new ones all at the same time! Once you add strobe to the equation you'll need to visualize the light direction and quality (hard, sharp shadows, or soft and diffused. Think back to high school geometry and review earlier post on this blog about angle of incident and reflection. A great way to learn is to set up your flash, fire a test shot and then adjust until you get the right angle and quality. Never (even if your life depends on it) use on camera flash. That's the quickest way to kill a photo. Think about it, we are used to looking at light coming from above us (you know, from the sun) not from eye level. This look is unnatural and not at all pleasing.
  4. Look for creative solutions. One of the main problems with using speedlight flash units is they create a small beam of hard light. But you don't need to spend thousands on modifiers when objects lying around the house will work well to create diffusion. My favorites include bouncing the flash off a white ceiling (9ft or shorter is best), shooting through a frosted shower curtain, or bouncing off a reflector. Keep in mind anything white can be a good reflector. I've used Terice as a reflector before. I needed a small amount of fill on location so I bounced light off the t-shirt she was wearing. Worked like a charm. For more information on at home diffusion techniques see the video attached to this post. 

Tomorrow: SB-900 walk through. How I  use one of Nikon's coolest speedlights.


  1. Ummm...was it taken in a bathroom? Kinda looks like the model is seated on the bathtub rim

  2. @ Moriah, and here I thought I was so clever and no one would guess. Oh well, you got it right!