by Lindsay Teague (Feb 7, 2005)
Aaron Rose once said, “In the right light, at the right time, everything is extraordinary.” It seems to me that the most extraordinary pictures are those taken in natural light. There’s something so simple and pure about a picture that is completely natural: no light bulbs, no electricity, just beautiful shadows. Wouldn’t it be amazing if you could get that great “golden hour” light shining through your house at all times of the day or night? If I only had a genie and three wishes!
Let’s get real here; most family “events” take place at night and what a pain it can be working with indoor lighting! You have to consider if it is soft light or harsh light, fluorescent or incandescent…do we even want to know what that means? No thank you! There are a few steps that you can take to make your indoor, artificial-light photos as good as they can be under the circumstances!
Use a flash diffuser. When you take pictures indoors, a flash is often the main source of light on your subject. Unfortunately, a flash produces a harsh light on your subjects that often produces sub-par photos. To soften the light, pop on a flash diffuser. This looks like a white box that fits over your flash. When the flash goes off, the light will be diffused, casting a more natural glow over your subjects. You can get a diffuser at your local camera store, or if you’re strapped for cash, make your own diffuser by rubber-banding a piece of white tissue paper over your flash.
Using a diffuser works best if you are shooting at a close range. While a diffuser will soften the light, it will also spread it out, making your “working distance” much smaller. In order to compensate for the reduced working distance, try using a faster film speed or (for digital photographers) set your ISO at a higher level.
Bounce the flash. Bouncing the flash off a wall or ceiling can also produce natural-looking results. The photos below were taken by Briana Fisher. She directed her Speedlite flash towards a wall or ceiling as she took the photographs. This allowed the light produced by the flash to softly surround her son, rather than create harsh shadows.
Use a reflector. A reflector can re-direct a natural light-source to the subject you are photographing. Don’t have a reflector? No problem. Use a piece of white foam board or poster board from your child’s latest school project as a light reflector. Have someone who is not in the picture hold it close to your subject to light it properly on all sides. This works especially well with black-and-white photography.
Avoid yellow light. We’ve all gotten those pictures back with a yellow hue about them. The picture looks okay, but that yellow coloring ruins everything. In order to get rid of the yellow glow, you can use a flash (see tip above) or you can get different light bulbs. Try using an incandescent light bulb (contains a blue color rather than yellow). Pick up one of the GE Reveal bulbs next time you’re at the store and give that a go! Also try using a lower wattage light bulb. Have a dimmer switch? Take full advantage of this feature by testing out the light on your subjects. Change the lights from darker to brighter and pay close attention to where the light is hitting in your picture, then adjust accordingly.
Work with what you have. Check out the light fixtures in the room. Are they pointing directly down on your subject from above? Can you move the fixtures around on your ceiling fan? Work with the light so that it doesn’t directly hit your subjects and instead bounces off a wall or a door. This will serve as a quick fix in a pinch.
At the risk of sounding “clichéd,” my final tip would be to always remember, “Practice makes perfect.” If you have a digital camera, you have the advantage of immediate results. Use this to learn about lighting and then you’ll be a pro next time you need some good indoor pictures. Make the mistakes now so you can avoid them in the future when it really counts!