DSLR Photography 101: Indoor Lighting

Megan O'Neill


Indoor lighting can often be challenging. It can be dim, and the myriad of light sources — from artificial overhead lighting and lamps to natural light coming through doors and windows — can be difficult to control. In the latest installment of our DSLR Photography 101 series, we share some tips for making the most out of the light you’ve got indoors, from our consumer customer owner (and pro photographer) Beth Forester.

Setting up for your indoor shoot

When preparing for your indoor shoot, here are a few tips to help you get the most out of your lighting conditions.

Tip 1: Turn off your on-camera flash.

On-camera flash is usually unflattering and can cause your subject to look pasty or washed out. It also often results in weird shadows. For this reason, Beth recommends turning off the flash and using natural light instead.

Tip 2: Let in as much light as possible.

Raise your blinds, open your curtains, and maybe even your doors to let in as much light as possible when shooting indoors.

Tip 3: Turn up the iSO on your camera.

Because indoor lighting can be quite dim, you’ll likely need to turn up the ISO on your camera to increase its sensitivity to light. Learn more about ISO in an earlier installment of DSLR Photography 101.

Tip 4: Plan your shoot around natural light.

If you’re planning a shoot in advance, take note of the lighting throughout the day. Do you get more light coming through in the morning or the evening? At what time of day is the light harsher? Softer? Plan your shoot according to the times of day when the lighting is best.

Lighting your subject indoors

Once you’ve optimized your lighting conditions, you’re ready to shoot. Here are some tips for using what you’ve got to make your subject look great.

Tip 1: Turn your subject toward the light.

Have your subject stand close to the window, to take advantage of all that beautiful natural light coming through. You’ll want to be sure to turn your subject so that they are facing the light. If their back is to the window they’ll be backlit so that their face will get the least amount of light in the photo. Check out the example below to see what a difference facing your subject toward the light can make. In the photo on the left, the subject is standing with his back to the window. On the right, he’s facing it.

Backlight vs front lighting

To get the effect on the right, place yourself between the window and the subject, as illustrated by this photo of Beth.

Window Lighting Photography

Tip 2: Diffuse harsh light with a sheer curtain.

If the light coming through the window is too harsh, you can use a sheer curtain to create a softer effect. In this example, you can see how Beth used a sheer curtain to diffuse the light coming through the window, and the resulting photo.

Curtain Diffusion Photography

Step 3: Get creative.

Try turning your subject at different angles to the light or moving yourself around to capture different angles and perspectives. In this example, the subject is looking out the window, to really take advantage of that wonderful natural light. The photographer also used the panes of the window as leading lines to bring attention to the boy. Read our post on leading lines to learn more.

Window lighting photography

You can use backlight to your advantage to create a silhouette effect. In this example, the photographer shot their subject in front of a window, exposing for the outdoors rather than the subject.

Silhouette Effect Photography

Have you used natural light creatively for your own photography? We’d love to see what you’ve done. Share a comment below or reach out to us on Facebook or Twitter.

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