Indoor Photography Lighting Options

The other day we began an ongoing chat about indoor photography.  Most of you agreed that on-the-camera flash tends to flatten and fade the details of the subject.  A few of you asked a very valid question:  When it’s dark, what am I suppose to use for photography lighting if I can’t use my on-the-camera flash?  Let’s talk a little more about lighting.

WINDOW LIGHT.  This is of course only an option during daylight hours and you can find my tips for enhancing your window light source (here).

CAMERA ADJUSTMENTS.  As we talked about in our overview and also throughout our discussion on the exposure triangle, adjusting the aperture, shutter speed, and ISO can help to let more light into your camera.  Below is a little reminder of how the exposure triangle works…

  1. larger aperture = lower f-number = more light  (thanks Paul)
  2. slower shutter speed = lower shutter speed number = more light
  3. increased ISO = higher number = more light

As you’re taking these pictures, remember there is always some metering refresher tips (here) and (here).  The more light you’re allowing into your camera to compensate for a dark room, the more likely your picture will be blurry, especially if you have wiggly little kids as your subject or as the photographer, you have a shaky hand.  You can consider using a tripod if you’re photographing food or a craft.  Sadly, the tripod won’t help too much for a wiggly subject.  Or, you may just want to use one of the following.

CAMERA ACCESSORIES.  With all that being said, sometimes the light source just isn’t there!  You’re not alone, I’ve been there too, many times.  I have three sweeties.  I love blogging, but they definitely come first.  Many of my projects are completed late at night and I have to use my backup light sources.  Let me share a bit about those with you…

  • EXTERNAL FLASH.  This seems so similar to the flash that pops up on the camera, I’m convinced you’re thinking I’ve gone loopy!  In all honesty, they’re different.  External Flash attaches to the top of your camera and like your on-the-camera flash, helps eliminate many shadings and shadows, but because the flash can be directed at the ceiling to allow light to gently bounce back on your subject, your photographs aren’t flattened when using an external flash.  We all know that we’re way more attracted to gentle over harsh…carry that same feeling over when considering flash!  We use this one. It’s been used and abused since 2008 and we love it! Definitely if you’re taking evening pictures this would be worth the investment.  Along with our flash, we sometimes use a diffuser which again helps with the harshness factor.
  • INEXPENSIVE LIGHT KIT.  Okay breathe pretty please!  I’m not trying to make you a crazy professional photographer, I’m just shooting straight with you about great pics.  Sometimes you may look at blogs and wonder how in the world they’re able to get such a gorgeous picture.  Here’s how, they buy lighting  like this.  This may seem over the top (in fact I thought my sweet Stud had lost it when he made the suggestion because we live in a smallish rancher with a family of five, where do you put it – being a practical minded person is sometimes a curse).   Stud ended up buying this kit in January of this year, with a Christmas gift card he received.  And guess who uses them all the time…yep…me!  These were a great purchase and they fold up relatively small and are stored in one of our hall closets.  We use one light as our main light to brighten the subject and the second light to fill the shadows. The light is soft and you can move it easily and set them up quickly.

Cowboy Studio

  • LIGHT REFLECTORS.  You can find these at low prices, but since I stop by craft stores pretty frequently, I tend to support their cause and use a piece of white poster board to reflect light.  Although I don’t use this technique near as often as I once did when I was still learning and Stud was right there with me in all my photography pursuits, still from time to time, I’ll have an assistant hold a white board aimed at my subject with the goal of having the light bounce on the board and back on the subject, similar to what happens when the external flash bounces up on the ceiling and gently drops back onto the subject.  If you’re a portrait photographer, you may want to look closer at purchasing a collapsible multi-disc light reflector because the different colors offer skin tone benefits and they do fold up nicely for on the go photo shoots.

Bottom line, since day one we’ve been chatting about the importance of light in our photography!  That’s what it’s all about!   Let’s chat more about this soon, okay.  For now, leave me notes in the comments below with your favorite tips for enhancing your photography’s lighting!

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  1. Regina says:

    Thank you for you photography lessons Aimee, they’ve helped me a lot to understand about it.

  2. Thanks for the tips! I’ve been debating whether or not I needed the umbrella light kit, but now that I saw this, I’ve made my decision. I’ve subscribed to your RSS and I’m following you on Pinterest!

  3. Mariel says:

    Aimee ~ Thanks for linking up at Or so she says…! I hope you’ll add me to your list and come back this Saturday!

  4. Courtney says:

    Awesome tips!! Thank you for sharing at Feathered Nest Friday!

  5. Alisha says:

    Great tips! TFS!! Stopping by from Tip Junkie’s linky party.

    Here is what I shared:

  6. Your suggestions are very helpful for someone like myself, whose photos are often not that great. Thanks for the information.

  7. Kathie says:

    Thank you – wonderful tips..indoor photography is always frustrating for me. This article will help a lot.

  8. Mariel says:

    Hey Aimee,

    So glad to have stumbled on your photography tips. I’m always needing help indoors! I would love to have you stop by and enter my link party, as well. (Hosted every Saturday)

  9. this is so helpful! thanks for posting!

  10. Delilah says:

    YAY!! Thanks for this! I am trying to learn flash photography. I have a light kit but am still trying to figure out which external flash is best for me. 🙂

  11. Bobbilynne says:

    One of the tips I learned back when I was working for the newspaper was: if your external flash doesn’t rotate, or if you absolutely have to use the pop-up flash, you can place a semi-transparent diffuser over the flash. If you don’t have a diffuser, you can use a hankerchief or napkin & a rubber band. Works wonders to soften to harshness, even if it does look a little silly. 🙂

    Great article!