Taking great indoor photos without flash can seem impossible, but it’s actually quite doable!
We recently took our girls to Gatlinburg, Tenn., and while we were there, we visited the Ripley’s Aquarium. Because Emma wants to be a mermaid, this was clearly one of her favorite attractions.
While we were walking through, I had a friendly fella come up to me and tell me, “Oh, honey. Your photos aren’t going to come out if you don’t use your flash.” The first thought that popped into my head was, “Did he really just call me honey??” But I turned my camera around and showed him the pictures via the LCD screen on the back of my camera.
I was going to give him a quick how-to, but he didn’t stick around long enough to let me show him. So maybe, just maybe, he is out there wondering how in the world that lady with the sleeping baby strapped to her chest was taking pictures in the aquarium without using flash.
In case you’re reading this Mr. Khaki Shorts and Red T-Shirt, here are 7 simple steps to taking fantastic indoor low-light photos without flash:
1. The most important thing you need to do is to shoot in manual mode so you can control your settings. If you shoot in aperture-priority mode, you will end up having issues with exposure because your camera will be extremely confused about the varying dark and light.
2. Use spot metering to expose for what you are wanting to photograph.
For the picture below, I exposed for Emma’s face because I wanted the picture to show her looking at whatever was inside the tank. If I had used aperture-priority mode, it probably would have exposed for the tank, and she would have been completely under-exposed and in the shadows.
However, for this next shot, I exposed for the fish inside the tank while still including the woman taking the picture in the bottom right corner to show the sheer size of the tank. If I had exposed for her, the fish would have been completely blown out/ too bright.
3. Use the highest ISO that you can get away with. A basic SLR purchased in the past 3 or 4 years will be fine with 1600-2000 to start without having too much noise. Obviously, the better the camera, the higher ISO you can use without worrying about that.
4. If you are somewhere that has tanks or glass cases, try to get as close to the glass as possible, so that you can A. Get as much of the in-tank light coming into your lens, and B. Get rid of pesky reflections.
5. Use a faster shutter speed (in the easiest term … use a larger number on the bottom of the shutter speed fraction) to freeze the movement of the animals or fish or whatever you’re photographing. If you expose properly and then end up using a slow shutter speed, everything will be a blur. As a general rule, I try not to use anything slower than 1/80, but you’ll want to use a speed closer to 1/500 or 1/1000 for fish. Faster animals require faster shutter speeds.
6. Shoot with a larger aperture [smaller number!] as much as possible. It will let in the most light, and you will also be able to focus on what you want while getting rid of as much of the background as you can.
7. Accept that your images are not going to be perfect. You will end up with some movement, you will end up with reflections on the glass or scratched glass or dirty glass, and you will more than likely end up with some seriously funky white balance issues due to all the different lights and colors. But, if anything, those little mishaps will only add to the experience.
And when you can’t get it right,
convert it to black and white.
Keli Hoskins is a lifestyle photographer who loves coffee, yellow, talking about her two awesome kiddos, Jesus, using an ellipsis incorrectly, running, sweet tea, and shooting wide open. She doesn’t love frogs, wearing heels, orange vegetables, alarm clocks or going to the dentist. [No offense to any of the above]