tips for taking photos inside

taking photos inside

So you have mastered the tricky art of getting a good photo outside but you head indoors and it all goes to poop?

If you are shooting on manual here are a few keys to remember:

shooting inside natural light

>>> Find some natural light. If you are taking a picture of a person, a plate of food or some object get as close to some natural light as possible. If you don’t have much light coming in you can also create more dramatic shots – utilise the shadows and contrast. A reflector on the opposite side of the light will also help create a little more light to reduce shadows if that is not what you are going for.

shooting inside - artificial light

>>> If you don’t have natural light use whatever other light is available. Overhead lights are one option but also consider the light of a candle, table lamp or similar which will spotlight what you are shooting. Remember though that if you aren’t using natural light make sure that you have your white balance setting to the type of light that is predominant. Just change it to the next one and take test shots until you get the right tone (ie not weirdly blue or yellow). If you don’t get it totally right in camera this can also normally be fixed in post-processing.

>>> Shoot on a higher aperture (that is a small number). The higher your aperture the wider the ‘eye’ and the more light can come in. This will narrow your depth of field so consider carefully where you want the focus to be.

>>> Push up your ISO. Most cameras are still able to take very decent photos with higher apertures. If you are inside near a window you could probably still work with ISO 100 but if not push it up. Start at 400 and head up to the point where you can bring your shutter speed up to a hand hold option. Just note that the higher it goes the grainier it will be.

>>> If you don’t want a narrow depth of field or a lot of grain you will need a tripod or a still surface you can rest your camera on to keep ISO at 100 but allow the shutter speed to be slow. You can pick up a fairly cheap tripod which is absolutely fine if you aren’t planning on using the tripod in windy conditions or uneven ground where a sturdier tripod will be necessary.

inside light - black and white

>>> A great way to ‘deal’ with overly grainy pictures is to make photos black and white. This is also great if you can’t fix the colour caste (say you are shooting a band and they have a red light on them).

Camera settings: 1: f4; ISO 100; 1/320s | 2: f1.4; ISO 640; 1/80s | 3: f1.4; ISO 8000; 1/100s (shot outside but it was dark and a very small amount of artificial light was available) | 4: 3: f1.4; ISO 6400; 1/80s

Do you have any other questions or tips about shooting inside?

If you are looking for some more photography tips check out the tag, particularly: shooting christmas lights, an exercise in light and shooting self portraits.

If you are looking for personal tips I’m in London on 12 April for an Eat and Snap.

tips for taking self-portrait shots on your phone or camera


Over on Twitter I had a little chat with Decorators Notebook and after a rather random discussion we decided to do a little spring celebration. Asking people on 20 March to share a photo of themselves on their blog or instagram wearing a flower crown with the hashtag #primaveracrowns. There are some more details over on Bethan’s blog.

My face doesn’t appear often on my blog so my mind moved to self-portraits and I thought I would share some tips for others who want to share their flower crowns but might not have someone to take the photo for them. There are first some initial things you need to do and consider:

>>> If you are taking part in #primavera crown make your flower crown. We have a pinterest board going for some inspiration and Lotts and Lots did a how to post last year.

>>> Decide where you will take the photo. You could take the photo in your garden or house. Each will have their own problems and benefits. I am going to focus on taking the shot in your home as it is easier to control conditions. A good spot inside is a wall that is perpendicular to a window with lots of natural light.

>>> Decide on background and outfit. Using your flowers as inspiration perhaps hang up some fabric or decorative paper to create a background for your image. You can also use the clear wall if you want a simpler look. Wear clothes and accessories that compliment the overall look and feel you want.

Setting up your camera

Okay so you have your space, you’ve hung up any decorations and you are ready to go. Here is what you do:

  1. Set your camera on a tripod or if you don’t have a tripod set it up on a stool with extra books if it isn’t high enough. You might have to sit on the floor but that is okay.
  2. Using manual put your settings to something like: ISO 100; aperture: to give yourself some leeway I would set this at between 5 and 8 but if you want to blur out the background you’ll need to go to a wider aperture (2.8 or 1.4 if your lens allows). If you do that you will need to be further away from the background and will have to play around a lot more to get the focus right on your eyes. Your shutter will need to be set to the light but if it is still or on a tripod this can go as low as necessary – as long as you stay still. For the pictures below I had the shutter speed on 3 seconds.
  3. Place an object where you plan to position yourself – something tall like a broom is a good. Autofocus on the broom and then switch it to manual focus so it doesn’t change when you get in front of the camera.
  4. Set the timer and position yourself in the same spot as the broom in front of the camera.
  5. Boom!


Tips on posing and lighting

Here is where you can have a little fun. Hang around on pinterest a bit and think of the kind of mood you want. Bright and happy, moody and dark etc. My portraiture board on pinterest is a good place to start.

If you want a light/bright photo keep the background light and get a big white piece of cardboard to reflect on the side opposite the window. You can attach this to a chair or a box that is the same height as your face. If you want something a bit moodier you can remove the reflector or even add a black piece of card. This is a great option if you don’t want to show too much of your face.

Then play around with positioning – face the light, turn away from the light, look up, look down. Raise the camera higher if possible and have it looking down on you slightly. Find your best angle! Also Sue Bryce’s magic posture trick is ‘chin forward and down’. It feels weird and might even look weird in real life but I promise it makes a difference in pictures. Basically have a bit of fun with this bit. The biggest challenge in taking a portrait shot is probably not judging your face!

iphone self-portraits

Using your phone

The tips on lighting and to some extent the posing above apply to phone portraits too. If you have a phone tripod or can get it to balance on a stool and pile of books the above applies. If you are taking a ‘selfie’ holding the phone in your arms here is my trick: position your shoulders perpendicular to the wall. Lift your arm (with the camera) out to the side just a little higher than your face. Move your arm just a little forward and then tilt the phone ever so slightly. I find this is a flattering angle.

Also, I used a wall that was facing a window for these shots.

Also you will probably have to take a few shots to get the angle and focus right.

Post production

Every photo can do with a bit of post production love.

On your phone I might tweak the contrast, up the brightness, play with the temperature a bit and throw on a filter. I love VSCO or ProCamera for doing this.

On my computer I use Photoshop. Each picture is different but generally I would sharpen the image (shoothing in RAW means this is necessary), create contrast using the curves tool, perhaps do some skin retouching (although I was too lazy to do it this time) and maybe throw a filter on to show up skin tone and/or add to the mood.

Check back next week to see me get my flower crown on! Literally. Plus I promise to put more effort into my hair.

building a prop collection on a budget

styling props on a budget

So I moved to Italy. I left my years’ worth of carboot finds behind (good thing as glass (and wood!) things did break in the move) and I have to learn how to use the smaller space and ‘not my choice’ rental furniture that is available. As I am re-evaluating what photographic work I can pursue I am keen to build up a mini studio for my still-life photography. I thought I would share some of my ideas on how I plan on growing my ‘prop cupboard’ on a tight budget over time.

1. Buy crockery and cutlery that are good for ‘everyday’ use. 

I have a long way to go here but while buying items that are needed for our house I have bought things which are prop worthy. Why shouldn’t your pretty ‘props’ be used everyday, right? We needed some bowls so I am buying them in sets of two as I go along – different colours in a matching pair is also useful for creating place-settings to shoot. Next I am on the look out for side plates.

Second hand and sales is the best way forward but I think you might have better luck with the carboots in England/America than I have had in Italy so far.

When things start building up too much, how about a swap (like the clothes swap options) but with household goods.

2. Think beyond the normal props

How about trays, cooking utensils, tiles, food items, plants, flowers, frames, jewellery, etc. And ‘unusual’ containers such as cans, jars (although prolific now they are still ‘free’) and bottles. As long as it fits in with the mood of the ‘shoot’ throw it in there.


3. Fabric is magic

Fabric is good for creating different textures as well as shadows and is therefore great for styling, It can be used to create different backdrops for both the surface and behind as well as scraps for napkins or placements. You can get cut-offs from fabric shops or collect random napkins and dishclothes which you can usually pick up for a few pounds. I’m also on the lookout for some cotton yarn so that I can make some pot holders which will be used both practically and great for texture in images.


4. Paper is fun too

Pieces of paper can also be great. From decorative papers to even simple brown packaging paper. Even old newspapers are great either as a prop or laid out as a backdrop. And how about books, handwritten recipes, postcards, vintage pictures… Oh the possibilities are endless.

I have also discovered contact paper, which isn’t technically paper, but offers some more unique surfaces. I picked up some marble-effect paper (as seen in this post) for €4 from a local homewares store and although the other papers weren’t to my taste this one more than makes up for it. It isn’t perfect and has a bit of a kink where it has been rolled and is quite narrow so is only suitable for smaller arrangements, but still cheaper than buying a marble table!


5. Think colour schemes

As I am slowly going along buying things I am thinking of colour schemes. How items will fit together in the shoot is important and colour schemes are perhaps the easiest way to ‘work’ things together. Start with some neutrals which you can easily mix and match if you have a limited budget. Once you have some basics build in some other colours which can work on their own, with neutrals or with other colour items.

I have a long way to go buy am inspired by what Joy the Baker has been able to create in her modest kitchen. Grow where you are planted right?

How about you, any tips for collecting styling props?

Image sources: second 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 third 1 | 2 | 3 fourth 1 | 2 | 3 | 4

capturing christmas light

capturing christmas lights A lovely reader recently asked for some tips on taking some pictures for an event where the Christmas lights were being turned on. Night time photography can be the hardest, especially if you prefer the use of natural light. So these are just a few things that I keep in mind.

Ideally you don’t actually want to be shooting pictures of lights once it is completely dark. As it is just becoming dusk there will be more light so you might still be able to ‘free hand’ it plus you will get some more interesting details in the sky. That said I can’t imagine a company will be turning on Christmas lights when it is just dusk and if you live a bit too far north it is dark before you leave work anyway.

christmas-streets-mycreative christmas-tree-piazza-unita-trieste-mycreative Settings: all ISO 400, 1/80s, aperture at 2.8, 3.5 and 4 respectively

Shoot in RAW

Shooting in RAW will allow you a little bit of grace in your pictures as it holds a lot more information and so if your shot is a bit underexposed you can lighten up the picture. Some cameras have an option to see where it is 100% black or white. Use that and try not to go 100% of either in too much of the photo. I have photoshop but if your camera allows you to shoot in RAW it should hopefully come with some software which you can edit it in. I’ve never used GIMP but this video explains how to use an accompanying programme to edit RAW photos.

Use a tripod

The nice thing about Christmas lights is they don’t move – which means you don’t have to move! If you have access to a tripod this is the best way to go to get sharp photos. You will also need to put your camera onto timer or have a shutter release so you don’t shake the tripod when taking the picture. Set your ISO to 100 (or as low as it will go), set your aperture (this is an artistic decision but if you want it basically all to be in focus I would say 8 and up) and then change your shutter speed until you get the correct exposure. Note that for the examples in this post I have not used a tripod so it is still possible.

If you don’t have the option of a tripod push your ISO up as high as you are happy with. This requires a little bit of playing around – the super expensive brand new cameras can go really high but more entry level cameras might only look good up to 1600 ISO. You will also probably have to open your aperture wide up (f1.4 – 2.8 is great if you have it). Try and keep your shutter above 1/60s but if you have to drop below that keep your position steady – stand with legs shoulder width apart, hand holding under the lens to keep it steady. Lean against a wall if you can.  The great thing about Christmas lights is that blur works really well!

christmas-street-lights-focus-mycreative christmas-street-lights-bokeh-mycreative Settings: all ISO 400, 1/80s, f3.5, f3.5

Shot variety

Variety is the spice of life and it also helps to tell the whole story of an event. Don’t be limited in just shooting the full scene. Move in close and get some detail shots too. Get some ones with lovely bokeh blur (just move to manual focus and get the lights out of focus).

christmas-lights-mycreative Settings: ISO 400, 1/80s, f2.8

It’s not just about the lights

If you are also shooting for an event it is important to remember that it is not just about the lights themselves but the people ‘interacting’ with the light. The same applies if you are going out with friends or family to see some lights. Use available light, boost your ISO up to a high number. Set your shutter speed to a ‘hand held’ level (1/60 or above) and then set aperture to however low it needs to get to get properly exposed photos.

christmas-market-gingerbread-mycreative christmas-market-mycreative Settings: both ISO 640, 1/80, f2.8

This photo below is far from technically perfect but it gives an idea of how people where interacting with, in this case, the band that were playing. I wouldn’t blow this photo up to an A3 print but works well on the web and a Facebook page and might even pass as a small print in a photo album. Making photos black and white can also be a useful artistic decision…

shooting in the dark - crowd pictureSettings: ISO 5000, 1/60, f1.4

Learn from others

Head over to flickr to see what others got up to. The nice thing about flickr is that it more often than not tells you what the camera settings where for an image. It is a great way to learn about settings. You can also see some of my other ‘dark time’ photos

I hope this is helpful to those taking some Christmas photos. Let me know if you have any questions and share a link to your Christmas pictures for some inspiration too!

an exercise in light

an exercise in light Along with learning about composition and all the technical parts of taking a photo one of the most important things you need to bear in mind is light. In reality this is probably the most essential element – after all that is where the word photo comes from. The ability to make the most of the lighting available (whether it is natural or a set up) is what I think takes a photographer to the next level. Being aware of the light is so important in composing a scene and learning about light and knowing how it will influence your picture is an important skill.

So I thought I would put together a basic exercise to help you see the light a little more and understand it from a practical perspective.

Step 1. Take an object. Anything really but probably something that is easily moveable and sits on a table top.

Step 2. Find a window. For round one I would suggest a window that is not receiving direct light (what that means is the sun is not shining directly inside)

Step 3. Place your object on a table or surface as close to the window as possible.

Step 4. Take a picture with the window to the side of the object

Step 5. Take a picture with the window behind the object. You can change your settings so that the object is either silhouetted against the outside or overexpose the background so that it is blown out and the object is correctly exposed.

Step 6. Take a picture with the window behind you and the object in front of you.

This picture hopefully explains step 4 to 6 if you are confused. The orange circle is the object and the grey circle with arrow is the camera direction.

basic lighting directions

Step 7. Play around with your settings and make a note of what the light is doing in the picture.

Here are some examples I took with the above scene.

an_exercise_in_light_sidelit an_exercise_in_light_frontlit an_exercise_in_light_backlit

You can do this again by changing the object to see how features cast shadows, or ask a person! The trick is then to spot these lighting set ups in ‘real life’ situations. Even if you don’t have your camera to hand make a note of what the light is doing. What happens when you stand under a tree? If you are in a narrow alley? In a doorway, tunnel, etc.

These are examples of a ‘simple’ lighting set up with a single light source. When you are a natural light photographer you will generally have one light source – the sun (unless you throw reflectors and multiple windows into the mix). Here are some real life examples with notes.

side-lighting-portrait-example front-lighting-portrait-example back-lighting-portrait-example

Of course with backlighting you can also create silhouettes.

I hope you find this helpful but let me know if you have any questions! This is also a great article on seeing light if you want to go a bit deeper.

composing better images

composing better images

I’ve been watching Ben Willmore on creativeLIVE. He did a live workshop on “thinking like a photographer” (available to buy if you are interested). It was targeted at new photographers but I find it useful to sometimes start at the beginning again to pick up some new tricks and refreshing the mind.

In two days he obviously covered a lot of things. One tip that I found really useful is the idea of evaluating a scene and working out what is the positive, negative and neutral in order to compose the best picture. The positive is generally the subject that first attracted your eye to want to take a photo although there might also be some additional things in the scene that could also be included. Negative can be something ‘ugly’ or unpleasant – litter, some busy ‘activity’, etc – or simply distracting. The neutral is a plain space like a dull sky, road in front of a building, etc.  The goal is then to eliminate as much as possible the negative, minimise the neutral and optimise the positive.  Obviously one trend that would not totally follow this advice would be the concept of negative space (something that I am particularly fond of for landscape images.

I thought this was a good example of this in practice (although in no way the best or most exciting photo I’ve ever taken – I occasionally like to think I am a wildlife photographer).

composing better images - example 1

The picture above was taken as I approached the bird which was standing on a wall on a hill-top. There is a lot of neutral going on – the blown out negative space which doesn’t work to create the calmness you get from a good use of negative space. I had already moved closer to remove the “negative” which was a light pole.
composing better images example 2

By changing my angle and zooming in further I got a picture which had better exposure and by framing the bird in the top triangle which is light (but not overpoweringly so), your attention is hopefully drawn there. As I said not the most inspiring images but you can even learn from dull images!

I think this is great advice and I am going to try to be more aware of it when taking photographs.

What do you think? Will this tip be helpful for you in composing a better image?