Our last meeting of the year ended with a great presentation on shooting in indoor light from our guest speaker, family portrait and wedding photographer Teddi Yaeger. As usual I’ll recap all of my notes here!
Teddi’s style of photography draws her to using natural ambient light, she doesn’t like to pose people but prefers to tell a story in a single image. She shoots with a Nikon D-700, because she says that it is the same camera as the Nikon D3 but $1000 less. (ooh, a bargain shopper! We loved her already!)
Photography is light. There are just two keys to taking better photos: how much light you let in & for how long. Aperture determines how wide you open your lens, shutter speed determines for how long.
CHOOSE A LOW F-STOP LENS
Teddi said that a key to being able to capture indoor portraits rests a lot on our lens choice. The lens that comes with the camera, called the “kit lens,” is made for an average Joe (not us above average mamas ;-).) . Almost all the kit lenses will be what are called variable aperture lenses. [So for example, right now I am looking at the kit lens for my Canon and it is a 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 . Variable means that at 18mm the aperture can be set as low as f/3.5, and at 55mm it can only go as low as f 5.6 which equals NO buttery background. Boo hiss.] If you invest more money in a fixed aperture lens, like a 24-70mm f/2.8 (this is the lens Teddi shoots with 80% of the time) then that means the aperture can stay nice and open no matter how you zoom. If you’re still confused on this I found a tutorial link here. A low aperture setting is one factor that allows your camera to capture more available light, so if flash-free photography is a goal, then your lens choice is an important thing to consider!
Her advice: buy the lowest f stop lens that you can afford. A 50mm f/1.8 will run you about $100, and will allow for the nice buttery background that we all love.
So here’s another definition for you for the camera store. The 50mm she referred to is a “prime lens“ which means that it doesn’t zoom in and out unless you’re running around the room with it. You’ll be able to recognize prime lenses at the camera store because there won’t be a dash in the millimeter numbers. Think Madonna. 35mm. 50mm. 85mm. (versus 24-70mm, 18-55mm, 80-200mm etc.) The lowest aperture settings are found in prime lenses. So if you want to be REALLY cool at the camera store, you can now saunter up to the counter and say “I am looking for a really fast prime lens to improve my indoor photography.” Fast means low aperture, and has nothing to do with shutter speed.
Her next piece of advice: Buy lenses that are made buy the manufacturer of the camera you own. Unlike Sandra, one of our previous speakers who is a fan of the Tamron lenses, Teddi was very emphatic that the quality of the Canon/Nikon lenses are higher than the knockoffs like Sigma/Tamron.
She also recommends to buy a $30-40 UV filter to protect your lens.
RAISE YOUR ISO
After your choice of lens, which will allow you to lower your aperture settings in indoor photography to let more light in, Teddi then said to look at your ISO. Typically for outdoor photography you can shoot in 100 or 200 ISO, but as you move indoors begin to experiment with which ISO settings allow your test shots to look more lit. Typically, Teddi will shoot from 800-1250 ISO if it is a cloudy day and she is indoors. With the digital cameras, there is less worry about “noise” or the grainy look of photos that would happen in higher ISO film.
USE THE MODES ON YOUR CAMERA TO LET MORE LIGHT IN
P mode. Teddi shoots primarily in Program (P) Mode, which allows her to override the flash and have more control (see more on Program mode in September’s wrap up.)
Av mode. As well as in Aperture Priority (Av) Mode. She uses AV mode in low light and goes down to a lower F stop. In shutter priority mode (Tv)
Shutter Priority mode. To let more light in, slow the shutter speed down as low as you can. Go as low as 1/60th of a second if you don’t have an image stabilizer (IS) lens, with an IS lens you can go as low as 1/30.
Even without a tripod, you can use your body as a tripod- lay on the floor, use your knee, use furniture to stabilize the lens at low speeds. If you don’t do this your images will be blurry or soft looking.
Portrait mode. (in your settings dial, the pic of the lady’s head, north of the automatic settings) This tells the camera to shoot with a low aperture, so portrait mode will let more light in.
Don’t use sports mode. (the running man). This speeds up the shutter speed and lets less light in.
Night mode. (man with starry background) If you are going to use a flash, night mode slows down the shutter speed to let more ambient light into your shot and reduce the “bleachy” effect of the flash.
Once you’ve done everything that you can inside your camera to maximize light you have to start looking externally for light sources.
Find that one window, or sliding glass door, and find ways to get your child near it. Get a box of toys and place it near that light source to engage your kids, or if it is a window, send your husband or a friend outside the window to keep your little one entertained in the best light possible. Have a friend blow bubbles in the direction of the glass (the bubbles don’t need to be in the picture, just a distraction).
Reflectors. Teddi recommends that a reflector should be in your arsenal. They come in different sizes and materials. White is most gentle for a baby. Teddi had a 3×3 foot square reflector which she props up against furniture to bounce the natural light. Peek a boo is a useful game with babies when you’re using a reflector.
Lamps. If you don’t have natural light you can use a lamp, but just remember that every type of light has a certain cast or shade. Tungsten light has an orange cast to it, fluorescent lights have a greenish bluish cast. You can correct for this in your white balance (WB) settings.
External flash. She strongly recommends investing in an external flash. The farther away you can get the light source away from the camera, the better. (That’s why the pop up flashes make everything look so crappy!) You can shoot in shutter priority and move your shutter speed down to 1/10 or 1/30 of a second. The slow shutter speed brings in more ambient light to add to the light from the flash.
She talked about the slow sync flash modes (which you should look up in your individual manuals) which times the flash and shutter release in a staggered way to allow for more ambient light when using your flash.
The key with the external flash is to get it pointed up and bouncing off of the ceiling, and even off of your reflectors if you have one, in order to lengthen the distance between the flash and the person.
Accessories she mentioned as far as external flashes go are:
–Gary Fong’s light sphere which diffuses and softens the flash light (there are clear and cloudy versions of this, the cloudy is better for close up portraits, the clear is better if you are shooting more at a distance). Teddi uses the clear when she shoots weddings.
–Stroboframe light bracket which she uses during weddings. This raises the flash away from the camera and improves the light quality.
–Ray flash is a ring-shaped adapter that goes over your flash and fits around your lens which is her new favorite “toy”. It creates a really unique catchlight in the eyes when it is used, and diffuses the light around the subject’s face nicely. She recommends googling “ring flash” and looking at the style of photos that come out with them before investing in one.
–The Hot Shoe Diaries by Joe McNally is a book that Teddi recommends on off camera light. (He is a Nikon user so the settings are all geared for Nikon equipment.) Joe’s blog has some really amazing pics on it as well!
OTHER RANDOM TIPS
-If you are using an external flash, set your ISO to 400.
-If you’re photographing a baby with a flash you definitely want to bounce the flash off of the ceiling (since the flash is hard on their eyes), and it is better to have the baby on the bed (closer to the ceiling) than on the floor.
-Cranky kids? Throw them in the bathtub for some pics! The light bounces evenly in a bathtub, and you can get even squirmy kids to sit still and relax in a tub!
–Blurb for printing digital photo books
–Kolo photo albums for printed photos
-If you have a really special project, Good-stock.com does heirloom, custom-made books out of your memorabilia.
-She recommends Simply Canvas if you want to order one of those wrapped canvas prints
-If you have film that you want to convert into digital negatives, you can go to scanmyphotos.com
OK now onto the ASSIGNMENTS!
Since we have two months between meetings (and maybe some of us will be happily enjoying some new camera gear for christmas!), we will have two assignments. Please upload to Flickr and share your images!
“10am” – take an indoor light portrait of your child at 10am, using any of the indoor light techniques above.
“Holiday Tradition”– bring in a picture documenting one of your family’s holiday traditions! If you don’t have any traditions, do something fun for the first time this year and then try and remember to do it again next year ;-).
HAPPY SHOOTING EVERYONE! May Santa stuff your camera bag with new goodies this year!