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.
I shot this photo of my cat Ernie on my bed using a 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.
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.
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)
This looks like an O.K. shot of my dinner vegetable doesn’t it? It’s nice and clear. Seems pretty good.
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?
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
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.
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.
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.
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 …
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.
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.
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.
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.