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Tips for Indoor Photography in Low Light

Our favorite in-house photography nerds breakdown their best practices for tackling low-light in-door photography.

Recently we had a discussion about doing some indoor photography of our team, for some updated marketing materials. The problem is that our team is in two different places - our office in Irvine, and our Redmond office, so we needed a way to make the photos feel like they were all taken in the same place at the same time, without actually having to fly half the team to the other location. One of the common themes we kept running into was making sure that the lighting felt the same in both locations. Of course, being total photography nerds, one of our designers and I started talking best practices for indoor photography in low light.

While there are some general guidelines about low light indoor photography using a flash, flash photos often feel flat, lacking the dimension of photos without. Using a flash can also really disrupt the mood or moment that you're trying to capture. This is especially true if you're using an "onboard flash" - one that's built into your camera. These fixed-point flashes leave little room to adjust the position of the flash, giving you photos that look washed out, and lack background detail.

Fortunately, most of your problems can be solved by adjusting a few things on your camera. Here are Matt's tips:

  • Turn on Image Stabilization (IS) or Vibration Reduction (VR).
  • Set a higher ISO to 800+ if possible – this will add more noise to the image but produce a sharper result (noise can be removed in post production).
  • Set the aperture to the lowest f/stop so more light passes through the lens (try f/4.0 f/stop with a shutter speed of 1/500th).
  • Use a reflector (hack: use a large blank white poster board if necessary).
  • Adjust manual focus for depth of field (maintain distance with tripod, and avoid autofocus).
  • Setup 3-point lighting (key, fill, and backdrop lighting) if and when available.
  • Shoot against a solid color backdrop (at least 6ft from wall to avoid casting a shadow).
  • Constrain motion to portrait aspect ratio of 1x4.
  • Avoid overhead lighting if and when possible.

What if you're considering using a hot-shoe flash, like the Canon Speedlite?

  • Play with the angle of the flash head and try bouncing the flash off a reflective surface (a wall, a reflector, etc). Just be sure to test the angle of your surface to make sure you're getting the lighting you want.
  • Try using your flash out of the shoe - via wireless flash control. Doing this will give you versatility in your lighting that you may not have if you only use your flash in the shoe.

If you're going for portraits, you may even consider getting a lens with a fixed focal point, which can help reduce the need for extra lighting. For example, I'm a big fan of a 50mm 1.8f fixed lens.

By practicing these tips, you should see improvement in your low-light indoor photography. Happy shooting!

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