Indoor portraits warrant a slightly different approach to lighting. Many of the basic lighting principles of digital photography and other photography tips that we shared in a previous article on outdoor portraits with flash are equally applicable for indoor portraiture. Meaning, you still need a key light to illuminate your subject, which can be a large window, you still need to be able to produce catchlight on the model’s eyes and of course you need a flash which can be used in a multitude of roles. As a matter of fact indoor portraiture can sometimes require more than one flash unit. We shall come to a detailed discussion below on a few indoor portrait scenarios.
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Tip # 1 - Use multiple flash units
Multiple flash units suddenly add a new dimension to your portrait photography repertoire.
Multiple lights means an extra level of flexibility that allows you to create a subtle environment of light and shadow.
Depending on where you place your lights and at what intensity you can either create a high-key soft lighting arrangement or a high contrast one for a completely different look. At least two lights are the bare minimum when you are shooting in a studio environment. These lights can be triggered by a pocket trigger such as a PocketWizard or by setting them as slave units, firing when the on camera flash fires.
Tip # 2 - The bounce flash technique
The bounce flash technique works rather well for a simple change of approach. All you need is to point the flash away from the subject and aim it towards a ceiling or a wall, preferably a white one. What happens is that the ceiling or the wall disperses the light and that in effect produces a soft and uniform illumination. If you are using multiple flash units you can point one towards the ceiling and the other illuminating the subject from the side. This technique will not work with the built-in flash on your DSLR camera.
Tip # 3 - Use a large window with abundant light
A large window with abundant ambient light coming through, preferably not direct light is your best bet for indoor portrait photos. Such light works extremely well for portraits as well as head-shots. A lot of wedding photographers scout for such a ‘window of opportunity’ so to say, when they first land at a venue. But then you cannot always be lucky. Sometimes there are no useable windows at all. At other times the light coming through may be direct. You need to use your ingenuity to make things work for you.
A window with hard light can be diffused instantly with some vellum paper or a white sheet of fabric. When using a large window you will need to apply the balancing technique to mix ambient and flash light. In almost all situations the window assumes the role of the key light and the flash is used to just fill-in the shadows.
Tip # 4 - Use the smallest f-stop possible
Use the smallest f-stop possible on your lens to shoot with. A good thing about digital photography is the availability of a wide variety of lenses with wide open apertures. Lenses like the 85mm f/1.8 or the 70-200mm f/2.8 are wonderful portrait lenses. They combine sharpness with the small f-stop that creates beautiful shallow depth of field with soft and mushy background blurring, ideal for portrait shots.
Tip # 5 - Master the two point and three point lighting setup with flashes
If you have deep pockets buy at least two lights. If you are just starting out in digital photography at least rent two or three external flashes. Next step is to master the two and three light flash photography setup to create better and more compelling lighting arrangement for your portrait sessions. Let’s say you are photographing the bride on her wedding day. You need one light to work as your key light. That can be either at the top of her head at an angle of about 75 ° or to the camera right / left at an angle of 45 ° depending on whether you have three or two lights.
If you have setup the key light at an angle of 75 ° directly over the subject’s head you can use two more lights on either side, in a sort of vertical clamshell arrangement. Having said that the two lights should be angled slightly. One would be slightly in front and the other from the back. The light behind the subject will highlight the edge and create what is known as rim lighting. For the best results a fourth light can be used firing directly from behind the subject.
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We will cover the dials and buttons, what they mean, aperture, iso, composition and framing and then be part of a real live portrait photo shoot with an award winning photographer to put all that you just learned into practice straight away.