How to Shoot Indoor Portraits Without Using a Flash
When we plan for an indoor portrait shoot, we usually think about big studio lights, different light modifiers, backdrops, reflectors, and complicated lighting setup. There is no doubt that this setup is a must to create high-end portraits but you can shoot indoor portraits without these lights or even without flash. Many professional photographers don’t use any artificial light in the shoot, they just use natural light and create stunning portraits.
In this article, we’ll learn about clicking indoor portraits without using flash or studio light. We are going to use natural light or lamps which are available in every home.
What you need:
First, you need a room with a large window. We’ll use this window as our light source, it’ll give the same look as a softbox. If you have a choice of multiple rooms, choose the room where sunlight is not coming directly. If you use direct sunlight, it’ll create harsh shadows on your model which will not look good. If you have only a single room with direct sunlight, there are two solutions to this problem. First, avoid the time when direct sunlight is coming in the room and second hang a white cloth on the window to soften the light.
One thing is very important that there should be no bright color wall outside the window. Otherwise, the light will reflect from that colored wall and all your photos will have a color cast which you have to correct in post-processing.
Next, you need a backdrop, you can use the walls of the room as a backdrop but if you want some different background, you may hang a bed sheet or curtain and use it as a backdrop.
You also need a reflector to fill the shadows. You can use a white paper sheet or a Thermocol (Styrofoam) sheet to bounce some light on the model.
You need a camera and lens. If you have a fast lens like 50mm f/1.8, it would be great. A wide aperture allows more light to enter in camera and you don’t need to raise ISO very high. Also, you’ll get a shallow depth of field which is good for portraits. If you don’t have a fast lens, it’s better to use a tripod.
Last but not least, you need a model for the shoot.
We’ll shoot in aperture priority mode so that we can control the depth of field. So set your camera to aperture priority mode. Set your aperture to f/1.8 or the widest possible for your lens. Set your ISO to 400. Now ask your model to stand near the window and take a shot. If your shutter speed is 1/100 seconds or higher, you are all set. If it’s lower than 1/100, you need to use a tripod. In any condition, your shutter speed should not go less than 1/60 seconds or you’ll start getting motion blur.
As a general rule of thumb, the shutter speed should be 1/focal length. If you are shooting at 100 mm, the shutter speed should be at least 1/100 seconds.
If you are getting very low shutter speed, increase the ISO. If you are using a crop sensor camera, don’t go beyond 800 ISO, going above will create noise in the picture. If you have a full frame body, you may go up to 1600. Always shoot in RAW so you can remove noise and also bring all the details in post-processing.
At last set your white balance to daylight. It’ll give you perfect skin tones. If you want warmer skin tones, change white balance settings to cloudy. If you are shooting in RAW, you don’t need to worry about it as you can change it later.
How to shoot:
So everything is ready, let’s start shooting. Ask your model to stand near the window in a way that light will fall on her at 60-90 degree angle. 90 degree means your model is looking directly at you and 60 degree means the model is looking away from your toward the window. Take a shot and see if the light is soft or harsh. If the light is harsh, hang a white cloth over the window. If you have a white shower curtain, it’ll work best.
Putting something on the window will reduce some light entering the room but your camera is on aperture priority mode, it will change the setting accordingly. Make sure your shutter speed is not below the level we discussed earlier.
Now take another shot and check the shadows on the other side of the face. If it’s too much, you need to use a reflector to bounce back some light. Have someone to hold a Styrofoam sheet or white paper sheet or just put it on a chair. Sometime if the opposite wall is white, it works as a natural reflector and fills the shadows. If you want to shoot high contrast portraits, you may skip the reflector.
Now you are good to go, just start and click some amazing portraits.
Using lamps instead of windows:
If you don’t want to use windows, you may use household lamps. You need only one lamp and a reflector to create wonderful portraits. The benefits of using lamp are that you are not dependent on the sun and you can shoot anytime even at night. The only thing to take care of is that different lamps have different color temperature and you need to set the white balance according to that.
The position of the lamp is one side of the model and a little bit above the face so it gives the same look like a studio light. Use a reflector on the other side. A reflector is a must with the lamp because it’s a smaller light source so it’ll create more shadows on the other side of the face. You may use a white shower curtain in front of the lamp to make the light softer but it’ll reduce the light drastically and you need to use higher ISO.
So invite one of your friends and take some fabulous photos and show your photography skills to the world.
Related Article: Importance of Flashes in High Speed Photography
About the Author
Ramakant Sharda is an author, iOS App publisher, passionate photographer and a MIOPS Ambassador based in the beautiful “Pink City” of India, known as Jaipur. His work has been published in various magazines, newspapers, and blogs. He has published three Coffee Table Books, he writes about photography and also teaches photography in his workshops. Check out his website http://ClickManic.com to see the masterpieces created by him or download his free app for iPhone and iPad “30 Days to an Ace Photographer“.