You may have noticed, but I rarely post indoor images on my blog. Why? Because I, as a fine art photographer, am in LOVE with natural light. I am a freak about perfect buttery skin tones! If I am choosing between an image I shot in gentle outdoor light with luscious color surrounded by nature or an indoor image I used flash to create, I will inevitably show the natural light shot. That is the aesthetic that I am drawn to as a photographer, however; I shoot indoors all the time. The east coast is not home to the eternal summer, and weather helps dictate that the main events December through April are going to be indoors.
This begs the question: So what happens when the lights go out? Wonderful things continue to happen behind my lense! I employ a host of techniques to make images that are still compelling when there is not a trace of sun to be found. Just because the photos are taken in dark, indoor spaces doesn't mean an image can't be powerful and beautiful. The darkness can actually serve as the perfect counterpoint to the moment that is being illuminated. You can create a focal point within an image based on where and how lighting is used.
This post reviews the variety of indoor lighting techniques I use, and why. I will be touching on the following in a variety of venues: On-camera flash with various cameras, shooting with available artificial light, using candlelight, video light (you need one!), slow shutter speeds, and black and white decisions.
1) Getting Ready - Black + White
I adore black and white images. Black and white images allow the composition to really speak up, and for the subject to look beautiful - even if we are in atrocious lighting! On the left Cobie and her sister have a moment at the salon. In color this image would have looked incredibly busy. There is a lot going on! The ladies are framed within a frame, they are in smocks, surrounded by clutter and yet the feeling one derives from this image is one of simplicity and serenity. On the right I shot Joanna getting ready in a very low lit bathroom. I love how soft and supple everything is about this image. Joanna's gentle smile sets the tone for the temperament of the image.
When shooting black and white, you have 100's of decisions to make. Do you want high contrast? A gentle range of tones? If shooting in film, your stock, speed and how you expose, as well as what camera and glass you are using will give you different effects. If shooting digitally you can up your ISO to great heights to avoid using flash, or your can use artificial lighting - and a great variety at that!
1a) Getting Ready - Color - Video Light
For my Getting Ready images I like to maintain a sense of intimacy in the images. One of the reasons I love natural light is that it is effortlessly dimensional. One way to draw that dimension back into an indoor image is via video light. This may be one of my best friends. Video light illuminates small portions of an image to help give me dimension and light up otherwise dark spaces. In the image above of Shakara putting on her earrings, I lit the right side of her face with my video light. You can see the light cascading across her face and chest. This created just the amount of dimension I wanted. Her collar bone looks amazing, her smile dazzles and her diamond bracelet sparkles. For you photographers, if you do not have a video light you absolutely need one!
1b) Getting Ready - Color - Flash
In the background of this image the bridesmaids and Mother-of-the-bride are basking in the glow of fluorescent lighting. I wanted to give the bride, Julie, cleaner light to really expose the intricate black and white lace in her gown. I used my on-camera flash to light her up.
This image was shot in a room with zero natural light, and very dim overhead lighting. I used my on-camera flash to light up Courtney being spritzed before she sauntered down the aisle.
2) The Dark Church - Flash
Flash is pretty essential when shooting inside enormous churches (on the left a synagogue, on the right a Catholic church) IF you are close enough. Quite a few churches I have shot in have not allowed me to step past the LAST row, and have given me ONE shot during the ENTIRE ceremony to step into aisle and take a centered image. I think my capitalization explains how I feel about that! Flash freezes motion, whereas a longer shutter speed allows motion to show in a picture. Which one do I use? Easy. Both. Each at the appropriate times.
2a) The Dark Church - Flash vs. No Flash Black + White
I thought the above image perfectly illustrates the difference in color shooting versus black and white technique. Compare these two side-by-side images. This is nearly the same image. Two people lighting the same candles in the same space. On the left I shot in color, with a flash. On the right I shot with a very high speed film, no flash. The difference to me is staggering! This is a perfect example of when black and white just fits the mood beautifully. Kristen and Kevin's image has such intimacy to it. You can see the halo glow around the tiny flicker of the candle flame. The purity of their black and white attire really looks sharp, and so timeless.
Kristen's sweet glance at Kevin. So pure and simple in black and white. The composition is so strong with Kristen's subtle eye glance at the epicenter.
2) The Dark Church - Flash (revisited)
I adored the warmth of all the gold and camel marble by the altar. I shot with a flash to light it all up, both the couple and the scenery.
I love how in this image the warmth and intimacy between the couple was captured, even with the tremendous decor going on in the background.
3) Shooting with available indoor light
Sometimes indoor lighting is already present. Spotlights provide such high contrast and drama in an image. The cake below and the framed vintage picture above were lit with a strong spotlight in a dark ballroom. I loved how the spotlight showed off the contours of the cascading flowers on the cake. I didn't even need to add additional light of my own.
4) Reception and Details - Video Light
Details are perfect for using a video light on because they are small and you can get very close to them. Holding your video light with your hand you can angle to achieve shadows and emphasis exactly where you want them.
Petits fours will always look scrumptious, but they look even more delicious with dynamic video lighting. Notice how I used the video light centered on the middle of the plate, letting the front and back fade into a darker tone. This really makes that strawberry and interior petits fours pop. A shallow depth of field also helped my emphasis.
I always angle my video light with my hand to show off as much sparkle as I can, especially when dealing with metallics like the ones shown here. By the way, how gorgeous is that calligraphed hand-embroidered name card by MM Ink!? This image and the image to the right were styled by the gifted Dana Fitzgerald, of Martha Stewart glory.
When shooting in enormous ballrooms I like to make the space feel as intimate as possible, even if you could lose a kite to the ceiling. I used video light to illuminate Kristen and Kevin for two different effects. On the left, I wanted to capture the sweet look on Kevin's face, on the right Kristin's amazing veil and dress. Video light allows you to really get specific with what part of the frame you are lighting. These images would feel so different if I had shot this with a bright flash, exposing every detail in the background. Here you see a whisper of guests in the background and the mood feels hushed and romantic.
When I want a more subtle, very selectively-lit image my video light becomes my best friend. I loved the look on Julie's face as she hugged her new husband on the dance floor. Using my trusty video light I was able to highlight her joy.
5) Reception and Details - Flash
As I mentioned before using a flash freezes images. Notice how the kilt is captured mid-swing with no blur.
One reason in particular that I like using flash with guests is that they don't see me coming! If I turn on my video light and start adjusting the brightness and angling at them, I lose my covert status. They've seen me. They're grinning. A flash is so quick and really helps in catching those hundreds of quick moments at a wedding!
The time to use flash with details is when you are covering a larger space. A video light would not have sufficiently lit this table.
I used a flash for this image because I wanted everyone listening to the soulful speeches to be illuminated.
For this image I wanted to maintain an intimately-lit scene, so I angled my flash to give me a result similar to video light. Courtney and Marlon are being lit from the right to give just enough light for them while the guests look more "quiet."
6) Reception - No flash Black and White
This is one of my favorite images ever, and in color this would not feel the same. This image really fit Cynthia and Conor and their venue, a historic downtown train station in Richmond, Virginia. The sunset in the windows looks like old-Hollywood paparazzi flashes shooting off.
In order to shoot in dark large spaces with no flash in black and white you must be shooting with a high ISO. This gives a very soft, grainy look to the images that I love.
When I see candlelight in real life I feel warmth, closeness, and romance. Those same feelings translate directly through pictures. Candlelight provides just enough light to give great dimension and texture to an image, as well as lending a certain elegance and mood.
The candlelit tables on the left get a major boost from surrounding uplighting, but the principle remains the same.
This cake had such amazing texture through the small dots. A flash would have blown out this detail to a certain degree. The candlelight shows the contrast between the smooth cake and the raised frosting dots. Each tier ascending up the cake has softer lighting, which looks lovely.
8) The Holga - Black and White with flash
"Welcome to the party." That's what a Holga camera would say if it had a mouth. My Holga shoots in a square format that vignettes (darkens) around the edges. This camera is amazingly versatile and gives me such a fun variety for receptions. It can be wildly glamorous, fun, action-packed, etc. Plus they look so fabulous in my clients' albums!
Tanetta and Andrew are smoldering in this picture. The vignette, square format and black and white film add to the story of their wedding, glamorous, vintage, and sultry.
Not to mention this camera takes the most fun dancing pictures!
8a) The Holga - Color with flash
Again, so fun. The Holga turns everything into a party.
9) Sloooow Shutter Speed
When you slow down your shutter speed you are giving your camera more time to take in light. If you are hand-holding your camera, past a certain shutter speed your image will blur. If you use a tripod all fixed elements in the image will remain crisp, while any moving elements (people) will blur.
In the above image I hand-held my Holga with a flash using a longer shutter speed to let in more light and capture the movement of the group toasting.
In the image on the left I hand-held my camera using a slow shutter speed to capture how fast the bar tender was moving.
The architecture was stunning, so using a tripod I used a slow shutter speed to capture the intricate detail.
This is another detail image I made using a tripod and slow shutter speed in a very dark church, to show off the symmetrical architecture.
However dark the venue you are shooting in, you have myriad ways to make the images look interesting and compelling. And I haven't even shared every lighting technique there is! I hope you all experiment and find better, more beautiful ways of documenting!