8 Tips For Getting Professional Indoor Photos Every Time


Shooting indoor photography can become a chore when you don't know what you are doing. Lucky for you, that's where we come in to help!

1) Understand your camera as much as you can!
Get to know it like that girl/guy you wish you talked to more often from your English class. With that said, know your camera’s ISO limits; know when it starts to get grainy, and set a mental note for that. This way, you can increase your ISO to the highest value, while maintaining quality. For a T2i, your best bet is around ISO 1600, and at 3200 if ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY. For a T5i, you can shoot up to ISO 6400 without much noise interference. With that said, every camera model is made differently, so some cameras may have higher noise tolerance than others. Experiment to find out about yours!
Knowing your ISO capabilities can be very helpful during nighttime photography, because it is just one other element you can tweak to get your exposure to look “well-lit.”

2) Get out of automatic mode to take control of the all-important shutter speed
If this was not something you are already implementing into your daily photography routine, then it is time to get started! When shooting indoors, it would be recommended to shoot on shutter priority mode (Tv for Canon, S for Nikon) with a shutter speed no slower than 1/60 to 1/200. Anything higher than 1/200 may gain interference from any artificial lighting source you may have. Artificial lighting sources may include fluorescent “tube” lights, Speedlights, etc. This is because light bulbs flicker at a high frequency rate that doesn’t appear too visible to our naked eye. However, when shooting at nearly the same frequency as it, you will start to see those blue and orange bars caused by the lights.

1/60 to 1/200 is a nice range, because it affords you enough speed to capture a sharp image without motion blur, and it avoids capturing that nasty light frequency interference.

Shooting on aperture priority or manual mode indoors is incredibly helpful as well because you can then control the depth of field.  Indoor photos usually have very busy backgrounds, so reducing your depth of field can produce a much more pleasing photo.

If you haven't yet mastered manual mode, then read Jim's excellent in-depth photography basics tutorial.

3) When you have the advantage of daylight, make the most of it!
This means shooting wherever it is available-whether from windows to doorways. Not only does daylight look natural (because it is, afterall), but it is also very BRIGHT! Daylight is significantly brighter than even the brightest flashes.

Shooting from daylight casted upon a window can also provide some beautiful soft light that gives your subject nice, even lighting. If you don’t want to use the sunlight as your light source, you can even get artistic to get it to cast a silhouette effect on your subject.

4) Use a reflector!
Seriously, this is not only one of the cheapest pieces of equipment you could possibly buy, but it is also one of the easiest pieces of equipment you could CONSTRUCT in a pinch! Not to mention how useful it is as well! How do I make one, you may ask? Easy!

Step 1: Get a blank piece of white poster board or paper.
Step 2: Have someone reflect it onto your subject!

Need a bigger area covered? Buy a bigger piece of poster board! Blank white paper can give a nice, soft fill source for any shadows that appear on your subject, and it gives off that professional look. If you need something stronger and harder, use some foil to cover that piece of paper!

Of course, you may not have a 5-in-1 reflector after all this, (as you may get for under $20) but it is still a 2-in-1 that you just made from mere pocket change!
Reflectors are great for daytime or nighttime photography and they provide powerful lighting compensation wherever you go.

5) Avoid overhead lighting.
Yes, this means your dear Aunt Sally’s kitchen lights as well. The reason being is that the overhead lighting casts these unflattering shadows that exaggerates wrinkles and eye bags. The simple solution to this problem? Simply have your subject(s) take a few steps back from the light source, so that it bounces from the floor onto your subject instead. Or if you are shooting for a photo that is going on your next Halloween card, then go ahead and let the light from above rain!

I photographed this little girl playing with her toys in a tiny little village in rural China. The window light in the room was beautiful.

6) Modify that flash!
If you have a Speedlight flash available, or if you must shoot with the dreaded pop-up flash, modify the light in any way possible to avoid washed-out faces from the harsh light. For example, if you are shooting with a Speedlight, point the flash towards the ceiling or a nearby wall to bounce the flash onto your subjects! Doing this technique can be comparable to using a giant soft box such as those used for your school portraits, as it provides soft, even light. When the moment absolutely requires you to use the pop-up flash, an easy and foolproof method to modify the light is to use a thin (preferably plain white) tissue to go over the flash. Even though you are still stuck with direct flash, at least the light is soft, and the material does not have to be paper, by the way! I was at a theme park once, where I needed to use my pop-up flash, and only had a plastic bag to modify the flash. With a couple of trials and fiddling with “Manual” mode, I got it to look pretty nice!

7) A tripod can become your best friend!
When shooting in any situation, it’s always helpful to shoot on a tripod when you can. One of the reasons is that if you are required to shoot without any of the above suggestions for lighting, you can still somewhat get away with a longer exposure than 1/60, as the camera won’t be moving to cause motion blur. However, we cannot guarantee the same for your subjects. Also, wouldn’t it be nice to have a family picture WITH the family’s designated photographer?
If you are shooting static subjects indoors, then you can even use a long-exposure of about ¼ to BULB with less light sources to basically “magnify” the light, when on a tripod.

8) Shoot with whatever setting or lighting you need to get the shot.
Sometimes, we get into moments where we don’t have time to compose and adjust lighting. Those “Kodak moments” only come once in a while, and once they’re gone, they’re gone! These are one of the rare moments where I would find AUTO mode acceptable. You just have to put your faith in the camera and let it fire away. Hopefully, it hits it with its best shot.

Excellent lighting, shallow depth of field, and good white balance. This is an excellent example of indoor photography.
Excellent lighting, shallow depth of field, and good white balance. This is an excellent example of indoor photography.

41 thoughts on “8 Tips For Getting Professional Indoor Photos Every Time”

  1. I take issue with tissue 🙂 Putting tissue over the pop-up flash will not make light softer (assuming, as you wrote, it’s still direct flash, i.e. no bouncing). Harshness here is caused by the difference in sizes between the subject and the light source. To create soft light you need larger light source – umbrella, softbox, reflector, wall, etc.
    If by harsh light you mean too much of it, just use flash exposure compensation. Putting tissue in front of the flash will make some cameras fire it at higher power producing the same result (see pre-flash).

    1. Not true. In manual mode it does not fire at higher power (that is in TTL mode). A carry bag type plastic bag would effectively provide a larger surface area and make the light softer.

  2. Dunstan Vavasour

    Great article Steven with some good practical tips. I particularly like your suggestion of experimenting with the ISO to see how it degrades *before* you need to push it for real.
    I’ve also found that a F1.8 50mm prime lens is a good friend indoors, giving a whole 3 stops more aperture than the kit lens (allowing a lower ISO) – yes I know it’s £150 from a tight budget, but it’s another item on the “reasons I really, really need this lens” list.
    Finally, 7 is a really good bit of advice to which I’d add: get a remote shutter trigger (both for appearing in your own family portrait and also for making long exposures of static subjects) and practice with it before you need it for real. I have Jim’s recommended RF603 remote flash triggers, they also act as remote shutter release.
    I look forward to your next article.

  3. @Lev, you may be correct that some cameras will fire at a higher power, but either mine doesn’t or you’re wrong about this method not working. I don’t use a tissue, but not much thicker material, and I definitely see a difference in the harshness of the flash. It has an overall smoother look. Bouncing the flash from the ceiling is definitely a better method though.

  4. Thanks for the tips! I do most of them but I haven’t played with my ISO to figure out when the noise occurres. I will be doing that this afternoon/evening for sure!

  5. What is the best time of day for using outside light in an indoor shoot. Or does the time not really matter?. Thanks!

  6. It has been informative. I am a beginner. The tips given should prove to be helpful Thank you.

  7. I made a “mini reflector” with card stock and foil for my pop up flash. The lighting went from a “spotlight” to an evenly distributed light, I love this trick!
    My favorite time to take outside pictures is in the “golden hour”, the hour before the sun goes down. It puts a warm golden color on your subject, its amazing!

    1. Carlos Hernandez

      Hey, I was wondering if you had a YouTube video of yourself constructing DIY mini reflector? Thank you

  8. Thank you. I tried it at home and it worked. in some ways. But thank you I got some great shots 🙂

  9. you can buy a soft box flash cover for your camera at best buy. it works wonders.
    I took pics of my neices using the 50 1.8 and this flash cover, the photos turned out
    amazing! Just slip it over an external flash and walla an instant soft box. try it you cant
    loose as it is only 15 dollars.

  10. Wow thank you so much. This post was very helpful. I own a Gary Fong diffuser. Haven’t tried it yet, so would that work to soften the light if I placed it over the external flash? I also own an umbrella, reflector and diffuser, I should be able to be a pro by now but I’m still getting my feet wet. Learning the camera is key. I promise to do that first! THANKS AGAIN!

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