When I first started shooting indoor photography, I was intimidated by the limitations of buildings. As a natural light enthusiast, I wanted to have as few restrictions as possible.
When I discovered the positive sides of this genre, however, I was able to pinpoint my creative weaknesses and strengthen the skills I already had.
Indoor photography is an admirable genre for several reasons:
- it serves as a shelter when the weather is unkind;
- there’s usually some kind of artificial light, which you can use to take unique photographs;
- it doesn’t demand a massive budget; and
- it’s open to photographers of all kinds.
Here’s 10 tips on how to get better at shooting indoors.
1. Play With High ISO Numbers
Indoor lighting can be very complicated, especially when it’s almost dark outside. To take sharp photographs, you’ll have to increase your ISO number. As scary as it might sound, it won’t ruin your photographs.
The photos above were taken on a gloomy day using both natural window light and artificial light.
These are the camera settings I used:
- Aperture: ƒ/2.5
- Shutter speed 1/20
- ISO 5000
Though every camera is different, most modern ones have a high noise tolerance. Using my Canon 5D mark ii, I can take all kinds of indoor photographs without making them look too grainy.
The camera I used before this, a Canon 60D, produced a little more grain when I played with ISO. However, this effect created a cinematic feeling that complemented my photographs.
With this in mind, research your camera’s capabilities or experiment on your own. Once you’re aware of your equipment’s limits, you’ll be able to explore indoor photography a lot more freely.
If your results look too grainy, don’t delete them immediately. Chances are that you’ll like them a little more when you see them on a bigger screen.
2. Focus on Insignificant Details
Indoor photographs can look very simple, especially if you’re shooting in an empty or abandoned space. To make up for this, you can add eye-catching elements to your compositions.
If you don’t have an indoor studio (many of us don’t!) create your own using things you see every day. Pay attention to vibrant objects that you could turn into subjects, foregrounds, or backgrounds.
Take a look at your surroundings. What do you usually take for granted? Could that item be used in a photograph?
Here’s an example from my own life: I have a few plants on my table. I could simply appreciate them for what they are or use them as subjects in my portraits.
Plants make amazing foregrounds, especially when it comes to simple indoor photographs.
3. Use Indoor Artificial Light Whenever You Can
My experiments with simple artificial light led to the creation of my favourite portraits. Though I’ve never used professional studio lighting in my life, I strongly believe in the power of simple light sources.
A few examples are lamps, torches, and phone screens. Regardless of their simplicity, these objects are a great opportunity to add a spark to your photos.
In addition to beautifully lighting your subject, artificial light will help you get the perfect focus. When I take self-portraits in dark locations, I have to make sure that the autofocus feature captures the right details.
To do this, I light my face with a torch until the camera finds me. Once this is done, I can take photos like the one above.
Use artificial light sources to get the right focus, add more depth to your photographs, and familiarise yourself with different lighting techniques.
And when you do get your hands on professional studio equipment, you’ll know exactly what to do!
4. Know the Best Times of Day for Shooting Indoors
Natural light is very limited in indoor locations. If you want to make the most of your indoor space and get as much light as possible, shoot at these times of day:
- Midday: Shooting outdoors during this time will result in very harsh and unflattering photos. Fortunately, midday light looks fantastic indoors. Place your subject in front of a curtained window to get the most flattering results.
- Golden hour: You’re probably already familiar with this magical time of day. Shortly after sunrise and before sunset, the light is perfect for every photography genre imaginable.
- Twilight: After sunset, the sky takes on a pinkish hue. Combined with artificial lights, this can become the perfect background for mysterious silhouettes.
5. Make the Most of Every Room
Every room has its beauty. The white walls of an empty room can be used as backdrops for classical portraits or still life. A cluttered room can reflect your subject’s personality, add a touch of colour to your background, or be the subject itself.
No indoor location is unworthy of being photographed.
When you take photos indoors, observe every room and find details to include in your compositions. Sometimes, this might simply mean taking photos next to a well-lit doorway. It doesn’t have to be complicated.
When you train your eye to see potential in every indoor space, you’ll notice a great improvement in your work.
6. Make Your Own Indoor Photography Resources
DIY projects should be your best friends. If you don’t have access to a reflector, you can use foil to light up your subject’s features. If you want to add a dreamy look to your photos, you can cover your lens with cling film.
And if you want to create a studio of your own, you can put up a tablecloth behind your subject.
In addition to being fun, DIY projects are very helpful and budget-friendly. If you want to take your indoor photography to the next level, you must experiment with them.
If you don’t have the time for complicated DIY projects, stick to simple hacks. There are many easy ones (like the ones mentioned above) that will make your life much easier.
Another example is simply placing an object in front of a sheet of paper taped to a window. This will create a soft lightbox effect.
7. Describe Atmospheres Through Diptychs
Indoor photography is often associated with warmth and cosiness. Unless you’re shooting product photos, you’re probably searching for something that will intensify the atmosphere in your work.
This is particularly important in portrait photography, which relies on emotions to tell compelling stories.
One of the best ways to capture an atmosphere is to photograph various sides of it. When you have a few photos that you like, make them into diptychs (a collage of two photos) so that they tell a more wholesome story.
This will give your photographs more personality, make them more relatable, or simply give your viewers a clearer idea about your subject.
Watching out for diptych-worthy moments will make you more appreciative of indoor photography. By wanting to tell deeper stories, you’ll be more aware of details, spaces, and subjects that most people would ignore.
Combined, these things will have a positive impact on your work.
8. To Fit Everything, Use a Wide-Angle Lens (Or Make a Panorama)
There’s only so much you can fit into your lens when it comes to indoor spaces. With a prime or zoom lens, you’re going to have to take a few steps back before you capture both your subject and their surroundings.
You might not be able to do so because of the room’s size. In cases like this, use a wide-angle lens.
If you can’t afford a wide-angle lens, make panoramas instead. Panoramas are a bunch of different photos stitched together in Photoshop. They’re great for people who want to create detailed compositions reminiscent of medium format photos.
They’re also great for those who enjoy taking landscape-like photos of indoor environments.
9. Use Backgrounds to Describe Your Subject
Backgrounds shouldn’t have to look appealing only. In addition to complementing your subject, they should reflect their personality in some way.
This is much easier to do indoors because buildings are associated with homes which, in turn, have objects that play a big role in our personal lives.
If you’re planning to take indoor portraits, make sure you get to know your model’s space. Ask them what items they care about most, what part of their room they love the most, and what they enjoy doing in the comfort of their own space.
Using this information, position your subject in a way that will reveal both their expression and their favourite items. Including these things in the background will make your photos stand out.
If you’re planning to take photos of objects, animals, etc., you can do something similar. For instance, my cat really likes watching snowflakes while sitting on windowsills. To capture her curiosity, I took a closeup next to the window.
I also photographed the snow itself so that you, the viewer, would get a better idea of what she’s so curious about. I made the two photos into a diptych to tell a short story.
10. When All Else Fails, Use Windows
Indoor photography is often challenging, especially when you don’t have a lot of experience with artificial light, backgrounds, and projects. If you start to notice frustration in yourself, just take photos next to a window.
Windows are the best source of natural light. They also make fantastic foregrounds and backgrounds, so you can never really go wrong with them.
Here are ways you can use them to enhance your compositions:
- Foregrounds: place your subject behind a window to create beautiful reflections
- Backgrounds: place your subject in front of a window to create a soft, backlit look
- Subjects: on their own, windows can look very eye-catching, especially during the golden hour
Indoor photography overflows with frustrating obstacles that outdoor photography doesn’t have. When I began this genre, I was deeply afraid of getting bored, taking silly photos, or not making the most of my creative time.
Eventually, I realised how freeing those obstacles were. I found ways to make indoor photography both enjoyable and challenging with the help of DIY projects, various lighting setups, and artificial light.
You, too, can enjoy the perks of being an indoor photographer. All you have to do is get up, grab your camera, and photograph something that catches your eye. Before you know it, you’ll be having fun and taking fantastic photographs.
A note from Josh, ExpertPhotography's Photographer-In-Chief:
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