5 TIPS FOR INDOOR PHOTOGRAPHY

In 2010, when I first started this blog there were 2 things that I struggled with.  The enormous popularity of that stupid movie Avatar … and photography.

I hated the movie Titanic too, so you might as well double up on the whole fist shaking thing you’re directing at me right now.

While Avatar only robbed me of 17 hours of my life (I’m exactly positive that’s how long it was.), taking a single photo for my blog sometimes took me days.  I could NOT figure anything out.

When I started The Art of Doing Stuff I had no idea how a camera worked or why it worked the way it did.

This in spite of the fact that by grade 10  I knew that the two coolest jobs to have when you grew up were photographer or architect (depending on which movie you were watching).  Photographers breezed into super-cool lofts filled with models, advertising executives and snacks while wearing an outfit that subtly out-cooled everyone else in the room. An assistant handed you a big, bulky camera which you took 30 rapid fire shots with, before handing it back to them and disappearing down a warehouse style elevator with Andy Warhol who was waiting in the shadows.  Because you were meeting Madonna for dinner.  Who totally stole your look for her Borderline video.   Bitch.

This vision I had of photography was real. I even went so far as to take a 12 week long college level course in photography when I was in grade 11 to get a good head start on hanging out with Andy Warhol.  Nobody at my course was super-cool and most disappointingly I had no access to free snacks. Ironically, I did end up meeting Andy Warhol, one year later in New York City. He did not take me to dinner with Madonna.

I’ve learned a lot about photography in the past 6 years.  I took a few in depth, several month long courses at my local art school and even hired one of my favourite photographers, Donna Griffith, to give me a day long private lesson at my house.  And yes. She got free snacks.

I’ve also learned a lot just through trial and error.  I remember being SO confused as to why I absolutely could NOT get a nice clear shot, or why my shots all looked yellow no matter what I did.

Any time I looked for tips on-line they were written by genuine photographers who thought I knew WAY more about photography than I did.  ISO?  White Balance?  Shutter Speed?  Stop down?  What the what?

So in case you’re struggling to get good indoor photos whether for your blog or just your own personal use I have 5 no fail, dumby proof tips for you.

All of these shots are straight out of the camera.  No Photoshopping of anything on them.

 

#1 – USE A TRIPOD

When you’re taking photos indoors you have a very limited amount of light. Because of that the lens in your camera has to stay open a long time to grab as much light as it possibly can.  The problem with this is the longer your lens is open, the more time it has to capture any movement.  Either movement from you, holding the camera, or movement from your subject. Say, a cat.  And if something moves in an indoor photo, with the lens wide open, it appears blurry.

Too much information? Don’t worry about it.

All you need to know is if you use a tripod your shots will go from blurry to clear.

cat-with-tripod

I shot this photo of my cat Ernie on my bed using a tripod.

 

cat-witout-tripod

I shot this photo of Ernie on my bed with the exact same camera settings. The only difference is I was holding the camera myself.

cat-side-by-side

I tried everything to get as clear a shot as possible from resting my elbow on my knee, to leaning against a wall to holding my breath.  The shot on the left was the clearest shot I could possibly get without using a tripod.

Manfrotto Tripod

This is the Manfrotto tripod I own, but you probably don’t need one as fancy as mine.  Mine is very sturdy, has various level indicators on it and also has a  centre column that drops out at a 90 degree angle so you can get perfect overhead shots of food and stuff.  If you’re in Canada Vistek seems to have the best price for it. Plus Henry’s has it on sale at the moment for a really great price.

 This is the first tripod I owned which is much flimsier, but even so, lasted me for 4 years and was really lightweight and easy to use. It’s perfect for the casual photographer.

 

#2 – SHOOT WHEREVER THE MOST NATURAL LIGHT IS

(WINDOWS, OPEN DOORS)

food-without-window

This looks like an O.K. shot of my dinner vegetable doesn’t it?  It’s nice and clear.  Seems pretty good.

 

food-with-window

But this one’s even better.

All I did was move what I was shooting directly in front of an open door. Just because you eat or make food in the kitchen doesn’t mean you have to shoot your food there.

I took the first photo in an area in my house that had some natural light.

Then I moved it in front of an open door (that wasn’t getting direct sunlight streaming through it, which can wash out your photo).

See the difference?

food-side-by-side

If you’re photographing something you can move around like food or an object, bring it RIGHT in front of an open door or window.  You’ll get better colour, nicer shadows and a great photo as opposed to a good one. Notice how the black in the second photo is much blacker, the colours are richer and the whole shot has nice highlights and shadows as opposed to being sort of flat looking.

 

#3 – USE A REFLECTOR

black-without-bounce

Sometimes you only have one option for shooting something and no matter what you do you can’t get enough light on it.

Enter the reflector.  A reflector can be anything that’s white and will bounce light.  Even a large piece of bristol board or a large piece of packing styrofoam will give you a nice soft bounce of light.  Hold the “bounce” opposite wherever there is a light source (like your window) and move the “bounce” until the light reflecting off it it hits your subject.

It’s really helpful with things that are black since black absorbs so much light it’s easy to lose a lot of detail when photographing it in poor lighting conditions.

 

black-with-bounce

Using a reflector can help get enough light onto the dark side of your object to allow you to see the shape and textures better.  It’s a subtle difference between photo 1 (with no reflector) and photo 2 (with a reflector) but if you scroll back and forth you can see how much clearer the hobnails on the tea pot are and how much more detail you can notice in the cast iron pigs.

black-side-by-side

4. TURN OFF ALL YOUR LIGHTS INSIDE.  YEP.  TURN THEM OFF.

Remember back at the beginning of this post, 17 hours ago or so … I talked about my shots all being yellow at the beginning of my photography and blogging career.  I had NO idea why and it drove me crazy.

Well, it’s because when I started blogging it was in March, when the days are short and the nights are long.  Which meant that most of the time the lights were on in my house. I didn’t think anything of it.  I certainly didn’t think that incandescent lights are yellow and make your whole room look yellow.

But they do.

Remember there’s no Photoshopping in any of these pics.

This first photo is of my dining room with no lights on.

natural-light

It’s a little bit dark but I could fix that easily with Photoshop or taking another shot and changing my exposure.  It has nice tone and depth.

This next shot I took with the overhead light in the dining room on …

overhead-light

The whole room looks like it has a bad case of jaundice and needs a blood transfusion. Scroll back up to the photo with no lights on and see the difference.

BIG difference.  It’s why all my shots looked yellowy no matter what.  TURN OFF THE LIGHTS. In the words of Nelly Furtado.

 

overhead-light-with-white-balance

If you absolutely HAVE to have a light on because it’s dark outside and there’s no light in the house at all, this is the one time you might have to fiddle with your camera settings but it’s an easy fiddle whether you have a high end digital camera or a little, pocket, point and shoot.

white-balance-side-by-side

 

Find the setting for lighting and switch it to incandescent lighting.  If you have incandescent bulbs in your lights, that is.  There should be a setting on your camera for incandescent, fluorescent, daylight, nighttime, action shots etc.  All of these settings really work if you use them.  They help the camera  know what’s going on and what you want to take a picture of so it can give you the best possible shot.

 

 

#5. USE THE SELF TIMER OR A REMOTE.

peeking-huge-valentines-card

Valentine-card-DIY-front-cat

The number one question I get asked is how to do you take shots of yourself?  Do you have someone helping you?  No. No, I do not.

I have a tripod and a remote.  If you don’t have a remote I can guarantee your camera has a self timer setting.  Use it.

There are two reasons you should use the self timer when you’re shooting indoors.  Because sometimes when there’s very little available light indoors even the tiny little movement of pressing the shoot button on your camera is enough to make the camera wiggle and give you a blurry shot.  If you use the self timer you eliminate that.

The best option though is the remote. Make sure your camera will accept a remote (most will) and then order one.  They’re like $8 on Amazon and I’ve run mine through the washing machine twice and it still works.

I have the official Nikon remote which is $22, but I’d make a bet the cheap knock offs work perfectly. I can’t attest to that, but I’d bet a bag of chips on it.  Not my last bag of chips you understand, but a bag of chips nonetheless.

If this post helps even one of you in your quest to go to dinner with Madonna, then I have done my job.


55 Comments

  1. Kelli says:

    You’re not alone on the Avatar thing …

  2. Mary Edmondson says:

    I’m going right out to get a remote, tho I don’t have the remotest (ha ha) idea what I’m looking for. Is it a blue tooth device? A long cord that plugs into the camera, something like a mini tv remote? I guess I’ll go and google it. Nice pictures – mine are going to noticeably improve. Many thanks.

    • Karen says:

      Just click on the link I provided. A remote should show up. It’s a tiny little remote the size of about 2 quarters. No bluetooth, no cord. Just a battery operated remote like a television remote. ~ karen!

  3. mia pratt says:

    Thanks so much, what a great post. I just got a camera, tripod and dual umbrella lights for Christmas, so I can photograph my artwork. Mrs. Claus got it for me….using my credit card. This post has some great information I will definitely use. I hadn’t thought of a timer for shooting myself. Well, not shooting myself, I’m not planning on photographing anything messy like that…but other things I might do, like relax on the couch with my dog. I’d like to clean us both up as good as can be expected and take a nice photo of that. So I’ll just go right out and get a timer, and take some photos. Using the non-yellow-ish Karen method.<:}

  4. Kat says:

    Thanks for the info Karen I have been doing some creating the last couple weeks and eventually want to sell the stuff I make and have been going crazy with the lighting. I almost messaged you with the same questions. But I wanted to give it one more try with an idea I had, actually it was you who gave me the idea awhile back when I asked you about your daylight bulbs. I went out and bought a bunch of them and set them up in the area I need to take the photos in, put them in a bunch of thrift store lamps and damn if it really worked. This is set up in the basement with absolutely no windows. The photos are so much better with these and I now do not have to go outside in the freezing cold to set up a photo shoot with my objects. Now I guess I better get out that tripod that I have never used.

    • NinaMargoJune says:

      Great idea! Here in the US, the Michaels stores had various sizes of Ott Lamps deeply discounted, including a standing one with two different lamp shades. Hated having to make sure the daylight was available – which thwarted any of my night owl energy bursts! -when I got the urge to take produce photos.

      Karen, as always, your tips are great, especially the one about turning off all incandescent lights. Thanks for saving me much brain pain.

      • NinaMargoJune says:

        Oop, meant to type “product” photos instead of “produce” photos, but gave myself a chuckle envisioning posing bananas and peaches in compromising positions!

  5. Violet says:

    With you there on Titanic. My God, the sinking of it couldn’t have been as long as that movie.
    You’d be a much better dinner date than Madonna, plus she say’s M*****F*****R way too often for it to be shocking. One has to know just when and how often to inject profanity and I bet you do!
    Great post. Thanks.

  6. Paula says:

    Thanks for the tips, they will be useful. Fyi – your link to your first tripod doesn’t work.

  7. Sara says:

    Wow!! I’m so excited to finally hear someone say something negative about Avatar! I was so irritated just by the previews and all of my friends and family insisting I MUST watch it, my stubborn streak kicked in and I never went to see it, and have no desire to. You have finally validated my stance….Thanks. With you on the Titanic as well.

    Also, great photo tips, those addressed some issues I’ve been having.

  8. Milton says:

    Karen,
    You have the absolute most wonderful talent for boiling your experience down to concise, precise, useful information and you are funny as well.

  9. Barbie says:

    THANK YOU! For the great tips! I have always looked at your pictures and thought “Man she is good”! I will try using my tripod more and of course I love the idea of the remote rather than the timer on the camera …as running to my spot and waiting for the camera to take the pic often feels really awkward! LOL

  10. Marna says:

    Wow that is so cool! What a difference between pictures. My son told me to stop using my
    flash for some of my pictures. I mostly use my phone, and mostly take pictures of pets and
    flowers. I am going to have to play around more with my phone and my camera (inexpensive
    point and shoot). Thanks so much for the tips. I did have issues with the yellow overcast. 🙂

  11. Maggie Andrew says:

    Hurray, I thought I was the only person in the world who thought Avatar was rubbish! X

  12. Janice says:

    I went through a Madonna phase, ok it was a couple of years. I wore lace ribbons in my hair, black rubber bracelets and anklets with my spiky high heels and long tube skirt. I was certain that she and I could’ve been best friends. Just watched the video from your link. Love that video and love that Madonna, pre-British accent! She did know how to rock a video though.

  13. Lizzy says:

    I just love the heck outta you!!!

  14. Debbie D says:

    With you both on Titanic and Avitar with Avitar being one of the worst movies I have ever seen. I, unfortunately, cannot ever get those hours back in my life (What was it? 200 hours long?) or my brain to undue the vertigo from watching it in 3D. I finally gave up half way through the film and “watched” it with my eyes closed. Horrible, horrible, horrible. Although the parts I didn’t have to see, due to my eyes being closed, were infinately better!

    Titanic, I saw on cable, where I could pause the movie, run to the grocery store, do laundry, chop down a tree, knit a sweater, etc., and it still only took me a month to get through it.

    Your pictures, look great and I appreciate the tips if I ever decide to pull out my camera (other than the cell phone) and do some serious pictures. Thank you!

  15. Becca says:

    Shoot me now. I love fantasy. Buff said. Thank you for the info, a real hslp for my yellow photos from my phone or digital. Thing is, I LOVE 35mm. Is not as easy to photoshop. But I will be investing in some reflectors. Be it white board or metal sheets.

  16. Mom of Chirp says:

    Was everyone just lying about Avatar and Titanic? I disliked them also.

  17. Monique says:

    The cheap knock offs re timers do work..I was excited when I found them..and then like everything..I skipped the tripod and the timer..I’ll go back..but now I am coveting your tripod..for food I am often in a dance pose w/ my tripod..so it still moves..for overhead.
    Great information..Love the shots of you ..you’r so natural in front of a camera.
    Maybe you have answered this in the past ..but is your camera full frame?

    • Karen says:

      Hi Monique. No the Nikon D40 was one of the first affordable digital cameras out so it’s OLD. It’s a classic workhorse though. I’ll *hopefully* be upgrading to a camera with a better sensor this year. ~ karen!

  18. Sandra Lea says:

    This post couldn’t have been timed any more perfectly. I have struggled to use my camera and finally made the decision to buckle down and learn how to use it properly, this is a great start. And I am so in agreement with you on both Titanic and Avatar, I don’t know what people see in either of these movies. And thanks for the link to the stacked pigs, as soon as I saw them I knew I would need to own them.

  19. Tigersmom says:

    Finally! An solution to the yellow pictures issue. It makes complete sense to in a ‘Doh! why couldn’t I figure that out on my own?’ way.

    Thank you!

  20. Polish Princess says:

    Hi Karen, fantastic advice! would you be willing to do a similar post on composition as you have some of the most beautifully composed pictures on the web-world!

  21. su says:

    great tips! agree with you on the Avitar and Titanic movies 🙁

  22. Jody says:

    I hated Titanic and thought Avatar looked annoying and long so I refused to see it. I also hate Nicholas Sparks books and movies. Give me a Quinton Tarantino movie any day. (Even though I am a woman in my forties.) I take terrible pictures. Thank you!

  23. Mary W says:

    No one has commented on your Mother Hubbard table setting? I saw it and laughed out loud. Or maybe a Tiny Tim Christmas before Scrooge became unscrooged? They claim that good comedians usually have really high IQs and I think you are proof of that one smart cookie theory – always hiding really cool stuff in your photo’s. Thanks for such a refreshing post today. I’ve used brushed my teeth, had my coffee, and can now start the day with a smile! Your the best.

  24. Patti says:

    Thank you for this post. It came at the right time. I had learned most of that over the years but forgot most of it, too. I will definitely look at my camera settings for shooting in incandescent lighting.

    Tripods are our friends. As are remotes.

    Never saw Titanic or Avatar. Titanic came out when our family was going through some very, very tough times and every time I hear the theme song, the mention of Celine Dion or the Titanic, I am immediately transported back to an unhappy place. Avatar just seemed overrated and uninteresting from the previews.

  25. marilyn says:

    Good stuff Karen. Easy to understand. Thanks!

  26. Alice says:

    Great tutorial and reminders. Thank you. The side by side comparisons really help make the point clear.

  27. Ev Wilcox says:

    Your info was spot on and easy to understand. Makes me want to get my cameras out again! Your readers are lucky to have this blog. Thanks Karen!

  28. Cindy says:

    A very timely subject for me Karen. I’ve begun blogging recently in conjunction with opening a shop on Etsy and I have to say…photography is a bitch. And it’s a shame because I want it to be fun, and it should be. As you have already learned and I’m still a grasshopper at…the better your photography skills, the less time you spend editing and cussing. Love the tripod you use; it’s already on my Amazon Wish List and will soon make it’s way into my cart. For now I use a cheapo one that I can stabilize by hanging a hand weight from the center column. An upgrade is my next big purchase though I do like that my hand weights are being used for something. I use the 10-second timer for the shutter release. It appears that I have purchased a Panasonic Lumix that doesn’t have a remote cable capability. All the model numbers before and after my model have the option. #aintthatabitch. But in true Art of Doing Stuff fashion I found a geek (not a diss by any means) online who gave instructions on how to make one. I’ve just started an online photography course hosted by a successful Etsy seller (therefore, a successful photographer) that I’m pretty excited about. I cannot wait for this to be fun and not a chore. Thanks for your tips!

  29. Jody says:

    Incandescent setting…who knew???!!!

  30. OMG I hated Titanic!! Except for Billy Zane, he was awesome and got absolutely no credit. And Avatar was slightly easier to watch. Once was more than enough. Thank you for the great photography tips. I need all the help I can get.

  31. Shelly says:

    I LOVE your dress! Dibs when you don’t want it anymore.

    This is such great info. Have put off opening my Etsy store because I know great photos are everything. You’ve given me somewhere to start.
    Thanks!

  32. Laura Bee says:

    I was taking photos for my Etsy shop yesterday & the yellow was driving me nuts. I did a few with the lights off but daylight was fading…so I thought it was just because of that. Need to change my bulbs & get my ass in gear earlier in the day I suppose. Thanks Karen, always relevant (well, I don’t have chickens, so sometimes you’re just entertaining & interesting)

  33. Ryn says:

    Thanks for the tips! I already have a tripod but I definitely think I should invest in a remote.
    I’m with you on Avatar, which I thought was basically Disney’s Pocahontas on another planet with no singing, and Titanic.

  34. Jennie Lee says:

    Thanks for the tips, Karen. Now, if only the eBay sellers would read this. They expect you to buy something when you can’t really see it!

  35. Elen G says:

    I shot this article right into my Evernote, Karen. It was most helpful. Thanks!

  36. Heather (mtl) says:

    Oh, Karen. That pic of Ernie choked me up a bit. He looks so much like my Badoodle (nee Juliette Inez, aka Boopy Dipper Doodle-Day) that I did a double take. I had just, just been looking at old pics on my camera and came across one of her on her last day. Oh, dear. Think happy thoughts, think happy thoughts, think hap…
    On to the camera post. Maybe now I can dig out my old ‘I bought when I was 19’ Minolta SLR, just cos it still looks so cool. Mind you, I haven’t touched it since I was about 22 so I doubt I’ll be any more successful, but could be fun trying!
    Oh, as for the tripod, I make greeting cards and quilts and find that the $ store tripod works well. Small, yes, but it does serve my purpose. And I got it for a buck!

  37. Robin says:

    I just bought a new point and shoot Canon…I think it’s an SX710….I have only inserted the battery so far and not tested it out yet. I will definitely have to check out it’s capabilities and work it to it’s fullest! Thanks for the schooling, much appreciated!

  38. Jaden Hair says:

    Such great tips! Oh that cutie pie kitty cat! I just want to cuddle 🙂

    • Karen says:

      Thanks Jaden. I’d have killed for these simple tips when I was starting out taking photos 6 years ago. Well not killed, but … you know. ~ karen!

  39. Benjamin says:

    I cannot believe you called Madonna ‘bitch’… clutch the pearls, blink blink. I’ll take that bag of chips and raise you one when we both have dinner with Madonna together. Did you seriously meet Andy Warhol or just kidding? You are my new idol !! I love the tutorial about your pictures, always so great. Keep ’em coming.

  40. Jan in Waterdown says:

    I’m just spending a lazy Saturday, like that’s different than any other day of the week, “going down the rabbit hole” on the interwebs. After reading your antojito recipe post (for the first time) from waaay back in 2010, I can not believe how much you’ve grown photographically talented-wise! It’s like you’re not the same person. Who are you and what have you done with our Karen!?

  41. Ruth hirsch says:

    Yes, wonderful post.

    So, ok with wiggly aka LDL bulbs??

    many thanks,
    ruth

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