Taking Great Indoor Photos without Flash

November 29, 2011

in Keli Hoskins, Photography Tips

Taking Great Indoor Photos Without Flash - I Heart Faces

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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And when you can’t get it right,
convert it to black and white.

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keli-hoskins-bio 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]

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{ 31 comments… read them below or add one }

Heather March 21, 2014

Loved this! I ran and grabbed my camera to try it as soon as I finished reading. Wish I could post the picture I took. It’s a shot of my 3 month old with just the light from my cell phone on her face in a completely dark room at night and it turned out adorable! So fun. Thanks :)

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Keli March 28, 2014

This makes me RIDICULOUSLY happy, Heather!!! <3

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Kristin February 29, 2012

my favorite aquarium pic sans flash… http://threesixfivein2012.blogspot.com/2012/01/16-365.html

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Kristin February 29, 2012

Love this article. We go the aquarium a lot. Especially the tip on converting to black and white. I’ve saved a lot of otherwise useless photos this way!

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Amanda Tapley February 25, 2012

I LOVE the photo of the Sea Horse … Beautiful!!
Would love to use this as a desktop for my monitor screen :)

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Monica January 22, 2012

Thank you! As a first time owner of DSLR, any tips are great tips! I’m trying to move out of my “Auto” comfort zone lol!

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Julie January 18, 2012

thanks for the tutorial, inside lighting is my downfall, this helps a lot!

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Brown December 1, 2011

It’s a great tutorial.
I found that it is really hard to take my dogs photo with flush.
So this will help me a lot.

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Kayla November 30, 2011

Fabulous post! Just what I needed to know. Thank you.

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keli hoskins November 30, 2011

Julia – I put up a few SOOC shots on my own blog if you’d like to see them. :)

They are at the bottom of this post … http://www.kidnappedbysuburbia.com/index.php/2011/11/30/taking-time-to-catch-up/

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Jenna November 30, 2011

Love this tutorial, the pictures turned out great!

P.S. I hate it when people call me honey.

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Jake November 30, 2011

Your shots are amazing without the flash. I never thought its possible without it in such a dim place. You were able to utilize the little light available to your advantage. By the way, your daughters are adorable.

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Matthew Kunce November 30, 2011

Great post! Wonderful advice you gave that can be used in so many situations. Love the pictures as well.

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Diane Turner November 29, 2011

Great post! Very useful information.
Love this site.
Diane

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Jean November 29, 2011

thanks for sharing. i don’t like flash indoors either.

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Patrizia Corriero November 29, 2011

Great tips shared by I Heart Faces about how to get great photos without flash!Thanks for sharing girls!:) http://t.co/BkGbbNxG

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DaenelT November 29, 2011

Great post! Funny (love how casually you wrote “Because emma wants to be a mermaid…”). And the tips are useful and easy to understand.

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Laura November 29, 2011

I love this post. Helpful and funny. :) Well done. I’ll be referring back to it. I’ve never had much luck taking photos at the aquarium. You’ve given me hope.

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Patricia November 29, 2011

Wondering which manual mode you choose since it was not apeture and can you please further explain this point?
2. Use spot metering to expose for what you are wanting to photograph.

Thanks!

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Christine November 29, 2011

Thank you so much for this post! This is one of the best-written and most informative posts I have read in a long time. I really appreciate the time you took to explain everything in really basic terms; making it very easy for a novice DSLR user like me to understand.

Can’t wait to try these tips out!

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Stayce Koegler November 29, 2011

Hahahaha, I love that some random man is giving KELLI HOSKINS photography tips! 😉

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Christy November 29, 2011

Great tips! I also like to shoot in monochrome indoors, sometimes overexposing a step or two and my images come out pretty sharp. :)

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Glitterbird Tammy November 29, 2011

Thanks for the advice. This is exactly the way I shoot indoors with no flash but sort’ve just played around till I figured it out. I’ve always wondered if I was doing it correctly! Glad to know I’m on the right track. :)

I have an external flash and sometimes when there is just simply not enough light for no flash, I’ll use my external but cover the flash with my hand. You can use a lower ISO that way and it makes for some interesting soft lighting in the photo.
Love your BIO. Very quirky and fun!

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Connie November 29, 2011

I’m new to the dslr world and trying to learn. Can you please explain what you mean by exposing for this or that…ie exposing for the fishes…how to do that. Sorry if that’s a lame question.

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Skeller November 29, 2011

Oh, honey! You crack me up!!! So glad you could clear things up for Mr. Khaki-Pants!! 😉

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Tina November 29, 2011

Thank you , Kelli, this was very, very helpful. You actually answered many lingering questions that I was hoping to get answers for soon. Now I can go practice instead! I love your pictures (I also read your blog – very neat!). Thanks for taking the time to share with us!

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Erin Stevenson November 29, 2011

Great tips. Thank you for sharing. I love learning something new and this site has provided lots of “somethings new”! Love the photos and I love the “mat” (for lack of a better word) feeling to them.

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Julia November 29, 2011

Great photos! They look a bit cloudy or processed, though. Would have been nice to see them sooc. Thanks for the tips!

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Heather Marie November 29, 2011

Thank you for sharing! I love this community!

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S Evans November 29, 2011

Thanks for this post – I always find it difficult to shoot indoors and will try your methods the next time we visit an aquarium or museum. Your photographs are interesting and fun!

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Tracy P. November 29, 2011

Thanks for a great post! Such clear and helpful instructions. We live close to the zoo and go there often, and spend more time inside than out in the winter, so I will put these tips to use in the near future. My goal is to get a great shot of the penguins swimming underwater this winter. Will be taking my tripod to help with that one. :-)

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