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Sunday, July 27, 2014

5 tips when shooting in artificial light

Over on the Q&A Anonymous asked the following question:

I'm a natural light photographer as well. When shooting indoors, I always open the curtains and turn off the lights. But, sometimes (like at 10 pm) I have to have the lights on. I'm never satisfied with the results I get, regardless of my WB settings.  What advice can you give me for shooting in artificial light?

Dear Anonymous, 

This may shock you, but I actually live in a cave. A mid-1980's territorial-style cave that has little to no natural light.  And somewhere along the line I had a mid-life crisis and selected orange cabinetry and painted the whole inside of the cave baby-puke beige.  I'm sure you can imagine how normal healthy people can start to look horribly ill in photos taken in my home, especially under artificial light.  I've made Papa promise that should we ever move, our new home would be made entirely out of glass and all surfaces will be painted pure white.  All in the name of photography.  'Cause that's totally practical. 

Wait!  Wait!  
Did I mention the times I taking pics in the high school gym with no windows, lots of overheard fluorescent lights and all surfaces painted the school-spirit colors of red and yellow!  Oh what joy and bliss to take photos in there!  But a mama's gotta do what a mamas got to do to capture her son's wrestling match!  

All that to say, I have some experience taking pics in low and or artificial light.  And I want you to shoot at night in in low light situations.  Many ordinary miracles take place after the sun has set and I want you to be able to capture these too.  I assume here that we're not talking about fancy schmany studio lighting here.  Plain ol' I'm-in-my-house-at-night-and-there-something-I-want-to-take-a-picture-of lighting. 

So lets talk about some things I've learned along the way. 

#1  To me, worse than artificial light, is more than one type of light.  Say natural light and artificial light.  You mentioned that you turn off the lights for your natural-light images and that is the PERFECT thing to do!  If you have even a smidgen of natural light, see if you can make it work.  If the natural light isn't gonna work use the light you have, even if it is from a lamp but think of this light just as if it's coming from a window.  Remember that it gets brighter the close you get to it, and is directional, just like the natural light coming in the window.  One of the advantages of artificial light it that we can turn it off or on or even move it!  Pull that lamp back away from your subject if it's too close. 

#2  The combination of low light and poor white balance is a recipe for an editing disaster.  Learn how to set a custom white balance in your camera.  Pull out that very boring camera manual and figure out how to do it.  Really all you need is a white piece of paper and the know how. If you're anything like the students in my class, you may be surprised how easy and fast it is to set a custom white balance in your camera!  This is the one thing that I do in the high school gym pics that saves me every time.   If photography is your thing, and you don't mind spending a little bit of money, (under $50) consider purchasing an Expodisc to nail your white balance. 

#3  Don't be afraid of noise in your low light image.  Crank that ISO up to do what you gotta do to get the image.  It's way better to have a photo with noise than a photo that's blurry or no photo at all!  And noise actually has some beautiful qualities to it that can enhance your image.  Honest. 

#4  Embrace the color casts that end up in your photo and don't even try to correct them!  Just go for those yellow casts and be okay with it.  Ya, this totally goes against #2 above, but I'm crazy so what can I say?!  But it's these exact color casts that can set the stage for your photo and evoke emotions.  The glow of the TV can create some amazing light.   A candle lit dinner should have a warm romantic glow to it!  These color casts most likely shouldn't be corrected because they help emphasize the story that the image is telling.  Use these color casts to your advantage!

#5  Learn how to edit your images and thus correct your white balance and reduce noise after the fact.  Ya, it's really always better to do this in camera rather than in editing, but hey editing is awesome and has "saved" my pics more than once!  and while you're editing, consider turning your image into a black and white photo so you really don't even have to worry about the white balance any more!  (Information and shameless plug re my Lightroom class is here.)  

Okay, anonymous, I hope that helps.  And I hope you don't live in a cave like I do.  but if you do, embrace the light you have make it work!
This photo was shot with a very high ISO at night.  A small table lamp with a plain ol' 60W light bulb was the only light source.  In editing, the image was converted to a black & white and had noise reduction among some other various editing.  It's a sweet little glimpse of my girl after dark with all artificial light, and one that I'm VERY glad I captured even though there was no natural light!

1 comment:

  1. What an incredibly beautiful shot!!! It's so simple and it.


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