Beware Of These 6 Traps When Photographing Indoors


Indoor photography surrounds us. It’s in magazines, billboards and in the tons of images we consume through our favorite feeds every day.

But light becomes shy inside buildings and houses, and photographers must be patient if we want to capture light in a soothing way.

Today we’ll walk you through some tricky situations common to almost every indoor environment – but first, we want to tear down an old prejudice.

Indoor Photography ≠ Real Estate Photography

Photo by Kaylah Otto on Unsplash

It’s a common mistake to equate indoor photography with real estate photography or architectural photography. Both genres are usually shot in indoorsy lighting conditions, but indoor photography is broader and happens more often than you think. Basically, all photography inside a man-made structure is “indoor photography”.

If you forget that silly prejudice – the one that says indoor photography is the same as real estate photography – you'll be able to anticipate very complex lighting situations when doing what you love the most: shooting pictures.

Scarce Available Light

Photo by Sabri Tuzcu on Unsplash

Indoor ambiance gets less light from the mighty sun than pretty much every outdoorsy venue, of course. But sometimes photographers forget this obvious fact. Being aware of it could save them precious seconds of camera set up time – and even the whole session.

There are various ways to manage low-light situations. The easiest way to photograph in a low-light situation is to use a tripod.

Tripods are the photographer’s best friend because they give us the steadiness we need to capture photographs that our clumsy and shaky hands cannot achieve when shutter speeds are less than 1/15 of a second.

The second solution photographers have for overcoming low-light situations is a lens with a fast aperture (from f/2.0 to the outrageous value of f/1.2). Even though this solution carries a heavy price tag, that extra stop of light will come in very handy indeed when working indoors.

Another extremely useful way to capture well-exposed photographs is by using artificial fill lights. But using strobes, flashes or any other artificial light source requires experience, practice, and creativity – but it’s the best solution there is, photographically speaking.

Last but not least, we must give credit to technology. The latest cameras work extremely well and produce great image quality at high ISO settings.

This benefit was the exclusive domain of pricey flagship cameras only a couple of years ago, but nowadays more and more photographers can enjoy the advantages of high ISO settings without sacrificing image quality.

Indoors Demand Wide-Angles

Photo by huyen. on Unsplash

Indoors must be seen as small worlds that restrict our physical ability to move around because of walls, windows, and doors. But optics make light behave in a curious way, and you can distort reality by making a small space look bigger by using a shorter (below 50 mm) focal length lens – hence, wide-angle lenses.

Try to work with an 85mm or even a 100mm telephoto lens inside a room. Unless it’s a huge room, you’ll feel extremely frustrated by the crop you’ll get in your image.

If you work with a 14mm lens, almost every room will look humongous in comparison to the real-life view. Of course, not everyone needs to invest in an expensive 16mm prime lens, but you can achieve similar results with the plastic 18-55mm kit lens bundled with almost every entry-level camera.

The results that can be achieved using that small lens at its widest value (18mm), a tripod and some flashes can be unbelievable for people who don’t understand how light behaves.

A Parade of Light Temperatures

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

Indoor lighting situations have the peculiar trait of emitting mixed light temperatures. This could seem an easy-to-solve problem if you work with auto white balance, but sometimes the camera gets confused and ends up capturing strange hues.

The best way to overcome this is to set your white balance to tungsten mode, or something around 3500K and 5200K if your camera has white balance adjustment capabilities beyond the classic daylight, fluorescent, shade, tungsten, cloudy and flash modes.

Even when you adjust the white balance in your RAW files later on, the camera will have rendered a more consistent temperature in the whole image, giving you less work to do in your preferred RAW file development software.

Light Shifts Oddly

Knowing how to avoid this trap will be extremely helpful for street and documentary photographers, who tend to move around more when doing our thing. When they work, going in and out of places is common, and light tends to shift oddly between outdoors and indoors.

The best solution here is to use auto ISO and set a limit so your camera stays within a certain ISO range. I set my camera to stay between 200 and 800. Nowadays, cameras render almost no difference in noise within that range, and almost every modern camera gives beautiful results even at ISO 1600.

Walls Will Affect Light

Photo by Alexandra Gorn on Unsplash

When relying on walls as your light-bouncing devices, be careful – their color will affect the light temperature.

Nothing is more annoying than photographing a model and getting weird skin tones (especially if there are adjacent color elements near the model’s skin).

Last but not least, textures in walls affect light as well; they refract it more if the wall is rugged, and reflect it more evenly if they are smooth and soft.

Whether you’re on a documentary assignment, shooting a wedding or working for a furniture shop, we hope this brief walkthrough will help you overcome those tricky situations and capture beautiful indoor photographs.

About Author

Federico has a decade of experience in documentary photography, and is a University Professor in photography and research methodology. He's a scientist studying the social uses of photography in contemporary culture who writes about photography and develops documentary projects. Other activities Federico is involved in photography are curation, critique, education, mentoring, outreach and reviews. Get to know him better here.

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