Part of being a family lifestyle photographer in the Boston area means dealing with low light. Most of our homes are older with small windows and we have a fair amount of overcast days. Low light situations can freak even the most seasoned natural light photographer out. It’s part of my job to use the available light to the best of my ability and here are some quick tips on how to do so.
1. Hug the Window
All you need is one window, or ideally set of windows to work with. When you’re dealing with a lower light situation, you want your subjects as close to that window as possible. Face them towards the light and capture every angle you can from that spot. Don’t worry about the background falling into shadows. Embrace it!
2. Bring the widest lens you own, with the lowest f-stop.
When you’re photographing an indoor family, space is tight unless you’re in a mansion. A 35mm or 24mm, to me, is the ideal focal length. For this session, I chose to use my 35mm even though I do own a 24-70. Why? Because the 24-70 wide open is at an f-stop of 2.8. I shot this entire session between f1.8-2.0 because it was DARK in there. With my ISO already pushed very high, I needed those extra stops that the 35mm lens allows. If I owned a 24mm fixed lens, I likely would’ve chosen that instead.
3. Turn off all other light sources.
I know this seems counter-productive. Why would I want to make it as dark as possible in there? Well, because mixed artificial and natural light is…ugly. It casts weird colors and shadows on your subjects. I’d rather stay right in front of the window and push my camera to its max than use mixed lighting. During a break in this shoot, I followed mom into the kitchen. Baby boy was being a ham over her shoulder and I snapped a picture. I included this in their gallery because he’s so cute and my client likely doesn’t care that every photo isn’t perfect. But if you’re a photographer, you can see how the mixed lighting here is harsh and not flattering. I delivered the black and white version which is more forgiving, but still not ideal.
4. Know your camera’s maximum capabilities.
The only way you will feel more comfortable shooting in low light situations is to do it…a lot. Practice at home– on your family or your pet or that vase of flowers on your table. Shoot in your darkest room on a rainy day. Push your camera’s ISO really high and then bring those images onto your computer and check them out. Every camera will handle low light differently. The last thing you want to do is be experimenting with quality at a paying session, so know what yours can handle before you get to that point. Most of the images in this session were shot between ISO3200-4000. I know my camera can handle that so I wasn’t afraid to go that high.
5. Don’t be afraid to shoot an entire session in one room.
If the nursery is a dark hole, don’t use it! Or take a few photos there for mom and do the majority elsewhere. I typically shoot a ton of indoor family sessions in the master bedroom. But this master bedroom didn’t work so we didn’t do it. 90% of this session was done in the “rec/tv room” and not even in the formal living room…because it had the best light! Once you get all the must-have shots in the room with the best light, then branch out and try a couple different areas of the home. You’ll be more relaxed knowing that you’ve gotten all you NEED already.
Good luck and happy rainy day shooting!
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