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Indoor Portrait Photography without a Flash

Monday, January 10th, 2011 by | Filed Under: Digital Photography, Multimedia, Photo Editing, Uncategorized

Indoor photography without a flash can be a challenging task. Particularly, if you have a point and shoot that has limited capabilities. These nifty tips should enable you to capture arresting portraits of people.

1. Go natural. Nothing like the light from the windows and doors to get the perfect light and shade you need on your subject. What’s more, with colorful or plain white curtains and blinds, your window can serve as your softbox that will add texture and a calming light effect on your subject. This works great for some classic portrait shots with half the face in shadow.

2. Not that artificial lights are a strict no-no. And again, get those bulbs or LED lights. They will serve as your perfect lighting companions. You can take portraits with a single light on one side of the subject. Or you could use two light sources to light up two sides of the subject. Or you could use three light sources, including one behind the subject to light up the background or the person’s hair.

3. Indoor shooting demands photography in adequate light. Here is where your shutter speed should be fast aperture should be wide. Which means, bump up the ISO just enough to avoid grains. This requires some trial and error between all the three, but it’s worth it. If your pictures do turn out grainy, you can use PhotoShop or any other photo-editing software and minimize the damage.

4. Do the reverse as well. Shoot indoors but have your subject outdoors. Shoot through the window as seen in this example.

5. Procuring fast lenses is another good idea for overcoming low light conditions. Of course, they are costlier than their inexpensive cousins, but they offer something that the others don’t: a wider aperture of f/2.8 and lower. This means you don’t have to bump up your ISO and shutter speed. What’s more, these lenses give your portraits a shallow depth-of-field that works to separate the subject from the background.

6. Sometimes, it’s okay to have a blurry portrait because it lends an artistic touch. For example, asking the subject to swing her hair even while keeping her face constant, will only blur her hair and give it an artistic feel. To make the blur happen, lower you shutter speed and create magic with your portraits.

7. If you are looking at camera settings, try this as a starting point and take it from there. But remember, these will not produce perfect results. You need to take these as basic settings and tweak them according to the subject and lighting conditions:

Camera Mode: Aperture Priority

Aperture: f/1.8 (or whatever is the widest in your lens)

ISO: 400

Shutter Speed (target): 1/50 second or higher

8. Shoot in RAW. This way, you will get to make key adjustments during post-processing like contrast, exposure and white balance.

9. Go black and white. There will be instances where your color pictures might not look appealing to you. Try shooting them in black and white or better still, turn them into black and white during post processing. You will be amazed at the magic this little conversion can do to your images.

10. If you want a color image and nothing else, turn it into an HDR image, using either the Photoshop plug-in or software like Photomatix. How do you capture this? For one, you need to shoot with a tripod and keeping all things constant, you are only over-exposing and under-exposing the RAW image in this order: -1, -2, +1, +2. Once captured, you will merge these images in Photoshop or Photomatix and the result could be spectacular.

11. If you find your pictures to be too grainy because you bumped up the ISO a little too much, make the most of the noise reduction software available on the market. To begin with, you could try the noise reduction tools in Lightroom. If they aren’t good, you could go for the Noise Ninja plug-in in Photoshop.

12. For sharp images, add even a cheap tripod as part of your set up. At low speeds, a tripod makes a big difference. Further “crispness” can be gained by using either a remote fire device or the built in self timer to eliminate shooting wiggle. Another help can be a simple piece of white or gold poster board or foam core to use as a reflector to help shape the light around your model’s face if the light from the window or lamps isn’t going where you want it.

To sum up

Portraits look great when shot under natural light. It’s continuous light that does away with too many false starts unlike flash light that is more of a trial and error since you don’t know how it will light up your subject. And remember to lose the urge to use the camera flash or any external flash. Portrait photography needs mood lighting and if that lighting is natural, so much the better to capture the real person in front of the camera.

~Zahid H Javali


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