“John Loengard, the picture editor at Life, always used to tell me, ”If you want something to look interesting, don’t light all of it.”
– Joe McNally, The Moment It Clicks: Photography Secrets from One of the World’s Top Shooters
As part of my ongoing series about photography, I wanted to talk about how to take a picture indoors.
Indoor shooting is relatively simple once you know how, because light levels tend to be more constant than they are outdoors, where clouds can cause serious problems with over or under exposed photos. I also have an article with more general info about setting up a shot.
- Lighting lighting lighting:
Some people claim you can never light too much, but if that lighting is uneven, you will get a better shot by ditching some of the lighting and changing your camera settings to adjust for low light levels – you can do this by slowing down your shutter speed (1/30 will let more light in than 1/300), by increasing your ISO, or by changing your f-stop number to a lower number (1.8 will let in more light than 4.6, but check your lens, some don’t go down very low). If you do have access to bright, even lighting, you want to play around (left, right, and top are usually where you put them) to find the best positioning for your lights. Remember to adjust the white balance on the camera if you’re using artificial lighting or everything has a tendency to come out yellow.
Tidy the area in and around the shot, because unexpected things will end up in frame if you forget about them and move the camera slightly. I’ll never forget the time I’d done a set of photos for this website, and it was only when I was resizing them that I realized a couple of the pictures had a pair of old socks in the background!!
- Eliminate Wobble:
Put the camera on a stable surface if you can, such as a tripod – this is essential for video. While you don’t need a tripod specifically, any stable surface should be fine, it’s easier to change the height and levelling of the camera with a tripod. For Youtubing, I put my camera on the wooden flat bit at the top of my headboard and I sometimes raise it with paperback books.
- Angle it:
Playing around with angles is one of the fastest ways to improve pictures from sort-of-meh, or flat, to vibrant shots that will jump out at the viewers. Even the most boring of things can look totally different depending how you shoot them. Tilt your camera up or down, increasing or decreasing height of the camera to ensure the subject is still in the viewfinder, to experiment with different angles.
If you’re using manual focus, you need to make sure you’ve adjusted it. With automatic focus, check that the key elements of the shot are actually in focus. I had one bridge camera whose autofocus had a terrible habit of focusing on the least interesting component of any given shot, which drove me to distraction because it didn’t have a manual option – this terrible focal problem was the entire reason I snapped and bought my DSLR.
- Snap it:
Finally, when you’ve got your shot set up, take your picture. I always re-take at least twice to make sure I got everything right.