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Maximizing the Light for Indoor Lifestyle Photos

I was not one of those photographers who got a camera as a teen and followed my dreams to art school.  It's actually quite the opposite.  Like many these days, I am a mom who was drawn to photography by documenting the everyday lives of my three boys.  As you know, everyday life does not always happen in the best of lighting situations, especially when shooting indoors.  When my family moved into our home a few years ago, my "photographer eyes" had yet to develop.  Now I joke with my friends in the field that I would never buy our house now because I am certain it is where natural light comes to die.  So, over the last couple years, I've had to learn a few tricks to make shooting indoors easier.  

I've been studying the light in my house for a couple years now, and I've figured out which rooms have the best light at different times of day.  When looking around your house or the homes of your clients, your eyes should search for the light coming into the room.  Whether this is through windows, doorways, skylights, etc, these types of light makes for lovely photos.  By raising blinds and opening doors, natural light is able to flood in and illuminate your subject while never having to use your flash.  

Photographing your subjects facing the light creates great catch lights, and  the gentle light covers the entire face and doesn't produce any unwelcome shadows.

Angling your subjects towards your light source can create some interesting depth to the photo as the shadows begin to fall away on the sides.  

I love using window/door lighting to achieve backlight and silhouetted images.  To achieve this look, place your subject between you and the light source.  

Finding little pockets of light (even when artificial) in a rather dark place can make for some memorable photos.  

I really do believe that the best camera is the one you have.  Everyone starts with something and at some point may upgrade their gear.  (My only camera 18 months ago was my iPhone!)  Regardless of  your lenses, bodies, and even editing programs, you can learn to rock shooting indoors.  After stating that, I need to say that certain things make producing these images a little easier.  I'll explain.

Using lenses with the ability to get wider apertures (a fast lens) will greatly increase your ability to get a good exposure without too much sacrificing by using a slow shutter speed or having lots of digital noise.  Typically a fast lens is one with an f-stop 2.8 or lower.  A slow lens (typically above f/3.5) allows less light to enter the sensor.  And when shooting inside, you want to let in as much light as  possible.  For so many of my indoor shots I use my 24-70mm 2.8, 50mm 1.8, or 85mm 1.8.  I would love to add the 35mm to my bag because the 50mm and 85mm can get a little tight depending on how much space you have to move around inside.  

Shooting indoors has also taught me to embrace the grain and increase the ISO.  By upping your ISO, you are increasing the sensitivity to light of your camera's sensor.  Using a higher ISO often leads to an increase of grain/digital noise in the image.  Some cameras are better able to handle shooting with a higher ISO than others.  My first body was a Canon T3i.  There was noticeable noise at around 800.  Now I shoot with a Canon 5D Mark III, and the low light capabilities far surpass what I was used to.  Personally, I don't mind a little grain in my images, especially when I am able to capture a raw moment as it happens.  Don't be afraid to push your ISO limits and experiment.  Find a level of noise you are comfortable with and one that will allow you the ability to freeze those special moments.  And if you're still worried about the grain, you can always work with in post processing.  I know there are several noise reduction programs.  You can even reduce noise in Photoshop and PS Elements.  Honestly, my favorite way to edit noise is by using the noise reduction sliders in Lightroom 4.  With these sliders, you are able to reduce the digital noise and maintain the details to help create your perfect image.

Finding the light indoors has become a fun challenge for me.  Shooting indoors has stretched my creativity and has opened new doors for me as an artist.  There is no golden hour inside a 1200 square foot home, just a few windows to work with.  But inside my walls, and I'm sure yours too, lives my family.  And I love capturing these memories.  


Allison Wheeler
 is a lover of lifestyle photography from Norman, Oklahoma. Her eyes were opened to photography by toying with Instagram in 2010.  She got a camera soon after and learned to use it by documenting her life with her husband and three young sons.   She now happily does the same for others, from births to weddings and almost everything in between. To see Allison's most recent work, visit her Facebook page.  She often gets on Pinterest to avoid cleaning her house.

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