Some of photography’s biggest trends in recent months—from the resurgence of the flash in fashion photography to professionally-shot, high spec building listings, to minimalist flatlays—all speak to the current demand for indoor photography, reminding us that even everyday environments can provide ample room for experimentation and innovation.
Shooting inside often means working with low light, navigating tight spaces, and contending with unpredictable colour casts, but learning to work indoors is an important part of any photographer’s toolkit, whether they specialise in weddings or still lifes.
Luckily, today’s cameras are better than ever at shooting in low light without creating noise or blur, and there are tons of DIY LED light setups you can try at home. Plus, if you shoot RAW, you can easily fix your exposure and colour-correct using Affinity Photo.
We interviewed eight professionals from around the world to get their best tips for shooting indoors. You don’t need any professional studio equipment to follow their lead and create powerful images in your own house or apartment; all you need is a bit of ingenuity and imagination.
1. Play with natural light
“To start, try to focus on existing lights and the way they cast within your indoor space,” the Paris-based photographer and art director Charles Roux advises. “Sometimes it’s a matter of redirecting it, and sometimes it’s a question of timing.
“Study the blueish morning light, the contrasted afternoon light, the smooth warm evening light or even night lights—from the street, the moon, etc. There are tons of possibilities. Besides sunlight, another form of natural light that can help you get creative is fire; I have lit entire photo sets with woodfire in the fireplace or candles. Though they provide little light and cast a very warm balance, they provide a unique sparkle.”
Turn off any artificial lights, and move around your home, studying how sunlight falls through the windows in different rooms throughout the day. By shifting your location and planning your shoot to coincide with golden hour or blue hour, you’ll have more control over the final image.
2. Take some test shots around the house
As you study the light in different rooms, snap some photos to see how it looks on camera. “Wherever I’m shooting, I always take scouting photos of the space with just the existing light and my subject for reference,” the Los Angeles-based photographer Damon Casarez explains.
“This scouting shot will give you a sense of the colour balance, the ambient light, and how the light looks on the subject.
“From this point, I will break down the room and see how I could replicate and enhance the light in the space, or similarly, create a lighting scenario that looks natural in the space. For example, if the main source of lighting in a room is an orange-hued lamp, I will put on a modifier (softbox, photek, or reflector bounced into a wall) with an orange filter to effectively replicate and enhance the lighting of the room so that it feels like it is coming from that one lamp.”
In terms of settings, consider switching off your camera’s auto white balance for more control over the colour cast in your photos, though you can always make corrections in post-processing.
3. Experiment with light modifiers
“My top tip for indoor photography is to break all of the rules you think are set in stone for studio or tabletop photography,” the London-based photographer Felicity McCabe suggests. “If you rifled through the drawers and boxes in my studio, you’d find old silver foil cake trays, tin foil rolls, random torches, headlamps, bits of broken mirror, old fluorescent kitchen lights wired up to 13amp plugs, and loads of scraps of coloured card.
“Play around with all of these things to see how they bounce the light you have available to you, whether that’s sunlight from a window or a house light or lamp. You can easily support small bits of old mirror or card at different angles using a big blob of blu-tack stuck onto the top of a tin of beans. Get creative, and your work will look like no one else’s.”
4. Incorporate some gels or filters for colour
“You don’t need professional lighting equipment to get that ‘neon vibe’ indoors at nighttime,” the Lisbon-based photographer João Marques tells us. “I’ve used everything from small lamps that I have around the house with colour filters to LEDs with a remote. Usually, I like to ‘paint’ the room with light, so I choose a white wall for my shoots and make it look as clean as possible.”
For more inspiration, check out our behind the scenes article with Elena Paraskeva on editing an image shot using coloured gels.
5. Use a tripod
“For my indoor still life photography, I use a camera, reflectors, gloves, a tool to blow off any dust from the objects I use, and finally, a tripod,” the Moscow-based photographer Anastasia Kolesnichenko tells us. “For starters, a tripod keeps things simple and gives you the freedom to experiment and move things with your hands.
“Plus, if you need to shoot at a slow shutter speed (for example, in the evening), then you simply can’t do without a tripod. If you don’t have a tripod, you can make it work by using a stack of books or finding something to lean on. It can be easy to get underexposed photos when shooting indoors, but a longer exposure will let more light into your camera so you don’t lose detail.”
6. Get creative with backgrounds
“My apartment is small, with plain white walls, so I must completely rearrange the space, make my own backgrounds, and be creative with my furniture when I shoot,” the Norwegian photographer Sofie Sund says. “I mostly take pictures of smaller objects, so that makes it a little easier.
“If your walls are plain like mine, and you want a different type of background but don’t have studio backdrops, you can just use what you find at home. Fabrics, curtains, or even bedsheets can work. Hang them up on your wall next to a window or even in front of the window if you’d like a backlight. Experiment with it and see what you like.”
White walls and backgrounds will bounce the light, and darker ones will absorb light, so keep those principles in mind when setting up your shot.
7. Make space (literally)
When you’re indoors, you have finite space to work with, so feel free to rearrange and reorganise the room for maximum potential. “I’ve tried to sacrifice everything I don’t really need so I have as much free room as possible,” the Basel-based photographer Chantal Convertini tells us. “I don’t have a big closet; I don’t have a desk, and I only have a mattress on the floor.
“Everything I have is movable, so I can adjust it according to the lighting situation and time of year. Also, if there is a lot of direct sunlight falling into your room, I recommend transparent curtains. They diffuse the light a little bit, so you don’t lose the highlights.” You can play around with opening and closing the curtains and changing the quality of light.
8. Start small
“To photographers facing space limitations, I would encourage them to experiment with and embrace a change of scale,” the Toronto-based photographer Justin Poulsen tells us. “Photographing individual items/people separately and compositing them together or shooting miniatures and enlarging them in post-production are both approaches to playing with scale.
“Later, these skills will become part of your creative problem-solving tool belt that you use outside of your home as well. Even large-budget feature films rely on miniatures to fulfil shots where there are logistical limitations. The Dark Knight’s use of small-scale batmobiles for chase scenes comes to mind.
“You may not be able to fit the outside world into your home, but if you shrink it down bit by bit, complicated concepts start to become more feasible, and you suddenly start to create new worlds rather than just existing inside of them.”
About the contributor
Feature Shoot showcases the work of international emerging and established photographers who are transforming the medium through compelling, cutting-edge projects, with contributing writers from all over the world.