Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Tip Tuesday #7 - Natural Light Indoors Again

So, if you checked out flash indoors, then you know the big issue there was the harsh shadows. Naturally, when one encounters harsh shadows using one's flash, one then attempts to take the same photo without the use of flash. Naturally.

Sometimes one finds oneself very frustrated with one's camera after that.

(C) Copyright 2009, Amanda Stratton - Living Proof Photography

Today's Problem – your camera has exposed for something other than your subject, as in the photo above. This can happen just as easily outdoors as it does indoors (probably even more easily), but for today, let’s talk about ways to deal with it inside. In the first image above, my camera was set to Portrait, which is basically the same as Auto for our purposes here. You'll notice I just went straight for Manual shooting to fix my problem, but here are some other things that can work, too. Thanks once again to Bria for modelling and choosing a great location and poses!

#1 – Close the blinds, curtains, doors, weirdly positioned lights
When we are indoors, we get narrow shafts of light from all of these things which make for a scene that’s not evenly lit. So try to create more balanced light, so that your camera’s meter has a better shot at getting things right. This may indeed be all you need to do to get an acceptable exposure. If it’s not, or if you don’t want to mess with your feng shui, read on.

#2 – Increase your exposure compensation.
In my little pocket-sized point and shoot’s manual mode, this is the only way I can control exposure, and it is really all that’s needed 80% of the time. If your scenes or subjects are coming out too dark, you’ll want to choose an exposure compensation value on the + side of the scale. This tells your camera to take what it thinks should be the right exposure (amount of light coming in) and increase it.

The only snag here is that your exposure compensation has a certain range, so you can adjust it somewhere between 1 and 3 stops depending on your camera. If you move it to +3 exposure compensation and it's still too dark, then you need to work harder.

#3 – Meter on your subject, or closer to it
On a lot of point and shoots, if you place your subject in the center of the frame and half-press and hold the shutter, your camera will not only lock focus on the subject, but will also lock exposure. Read your manual to find out if you can do this, or just give it a whirl and see.

Other cameras may have an exposure lock button (the * button by default on a Canon camera) that performs the same function independent of focus lock. Set up your frame excluding the offending bright spot, press and hold the exposure lock button, and recompose. Your camera maintains the original exposure.

Metering modes can also be a great way to control your exposure, but it’s a subject for a different day. Or consult your manual and learn by playing.

#4 – Shoot Manual
The other thing you can do is shoot in Manual (the real kind, where you set aperture and shutter and ISO), which requires less holding of your fingers in what I feel are awkward arthritis-inducing positions. This way you can have total control of the exposure, and with a little chimping*, you’ll get it right every time. You will also come to know where on the meter the indicator should be to get a good exposure of your little bundle of joy’s face, so no matter what the conditions, you can throw it in Manual, get in close on your subject, and set your exposure virtually instantly, and it won’t change when you recompose your shot.

Don’t fear Manual. Embrace it.
I guarantee you will come to think of it as the easiest way to shoot.

If my background was properly exposed before, and you just told me to increase the exposure, won’t it be overexposed now? Yes, it probably will be. You’ll have to use your judgement to decide whether it’s acceptable or not. I personally don’t mind some bits of blown out window or a too-light wall in exchange for a well-exposed subject. If, however, you're getting everything all blown out and it looks like your child is on the planet Hoth, about to bed down inside a ton-ton, then you should probably rethink the locations of common play areas or get friendly with your flash. Indoors, though, this is usually not too big an issue as there isn’t such a huge difference between the lighter and darker areas of a room.

At this point, I want to say that indoor light can be amazing light if you get a handle on how to use it to your advantage (and that's coming up in Indoors Low Light #4 - More Tips for Shooting Indoors). However, because the focus of these posts is getting better shots of our kids, I'm not going to assume that you have total control over where your child is positioned. If you do, please call me... I need to know your parenting secret.

NB: General underexposure is coming up on the next Tip Tuesday, so stay tuned for that! Then the final one will be some tips from little old me about how to use the light to your best advantage indoors. Then we can move on to something else.

*The term “chimping” refers to reviewing your image on the LCD after taking it. Sometimes people will make fun of those who chimp a lot, but I think that’s kind of like making fun of a manufacturer that has strict quality control. Chimping serves an important purpose, especially if you take the time to learn about the histogram. But I digress.


Amanda said...

Thank you. And thanks for the details of the pictures taken. That really helps alot, in addition to the tips you give.
and again, you find the most perfect models :)

Lisa B said...


I love these Tip Tuesdays!!! said...

This was the best explanation I have come across as to how to deal with frustrating lighting situations. Thank you so much!

Dodie said...

Another fantastic Tip Tuesday! You are very good at explaining things so they are easily understood by everyone.