How To Avoid Shadows In Indoor Photography: 3 Great Methods
June 26, 2022
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If you're like most photographers, you'll want to avoid shadows whenever you need to. Shadows can be a real pain when shooting indoors - they can ruin an otherwise great photo.
In this article, we will discuss how to avoid shadows in indoor photography using three different methods. We'll also take a look at some of the benefits of each method and which one will help you the most.
So whether you're just starting out with indoor photography or you've been doing it for years, read on for some tips that will help you eliminate shadows and get the best shots possible!
Assuming you're shooting on a professional mirrorless or DSLR camera, be sure to set it to manual mode.
If you're taking indoor photos with a phone or point and shoot - be sure to set that to manual mode as well (if you're able to).
Manual mode allows you to have complete control over your camera's settings. This is important because you'll want to be able to adjust the shutter speed, ISO, and aperture to get the best shot possible without any shadows.
If you're not sure how to set your camera to manual mode, consult your camera's manual or do a quick Google search for your specific model.
Make sure you're checking your white balance from time to time as you're moving around indoors.
Regardless of shadows, your white balance may be off from time to time when moving from room to room. This will change the overall color tone of your images.
You may have mixed color temperatures throughout - one area may have artificial light while another has natural/window light. Heck, you may run into a situation where both are mixed together.
Be sure to check with your camera in live view (on the back of the screen). The best way to do this is to change your white balance manually (while looking at the screen), until it matches what you're seeing with your eyes.
The 3 Main Ways To Avoid Shadows In Indoor Photography (overview)
Now that we have two main aspects of avoiding shadows out of the way already (manual mode and white balance) - let's discuss the three ways you can avoid shadows when shooting photos indoors.
Keep in mind - there will be a section for each of these aspects will full explanations along with the pros/cons of each.
These three aspects include:
Artificial Light (indoor lighting)
Keep in mind that these are ways to avoid shadows. These aren't ways to artificially eliminate shadows (using slower shutter speeds). We're talking about actually avoiding and eliminating shadows.
Be sure to continue reading to learn why camera settings are important (even though they don't eliminate shadows).
Camera Settings That'll Help Avoid Or Eliminate Shadows Indoors
Here is a quick overview of what camera settings you should use when shooting indoors and there are a bunch of shadows present in the scene.
As mentioned before... to correctly avoid or eliminate shadows... there isn't a setting on your camera that will do that naturally. You would need an actual light source to fill in the shadowed areas.
The first thing and the most significant camera setting that will help you in these situations is the aperture.
Stop down or open your aperture as wide as it will go. A large aperture will allow more natural/ambient light to hit your sensor. a wide aperture will greatly increase the brightness of your image and hopefully eliminate some of the unwanted shadows in the scene in the process.
You can then follow up by using a slower shutter speed (but not too slow). The last resort is to increase ISO. But please, use both of these settings sparingly. The slower your shutter speed the higher the chance of getting a blurry image. Read below to get links to our articles explaining why.
You can learn why you should use shutter speed and ISO sparingly by reading our ISO and shutter speed guides in full. You'll learn everything you need to know about using both of them effectively.
Natural (Window) Light Is The Best For Indoor Photography
If you're taking photos of a subject indoors and you want to avoid the shadows that are cast on him/her... get close to a window.
There is nothing better than ambient window light cast over a subject. Portraits are amazing - and if you can catch their reflection in the window itself... well, you have yourself a winner.
You won't have to worry about shadows when shooting like this. And the natural light photographer loves this.
However, you should completely avoid using natural light indoors when the sun is angled straight through the window (like sunrise, sunset, or just a sunny day). This is unwanted direct sunlight and the time of day is quite important.
It's almost best to have a cloudy day or the sun at high noon. The sun will overexpose your subject and you may have hard light / dark shadows cast on them because there is too much light.
Window light is one of the best ways to avoid shadows in indoor photography. If you don't have enough light, need additional light, and ambient light isn't enough - check out the next section.
The only negative to natural light is, well, if you don't have it. It's kinda hard to have natural light if the area that you're in doesn't have any (no windows, skylights, etc.).
That's where the other 2 aspects come into play.
Camera Flash Used To Fill In Shadows
Camera flash is a source of light that's widely used by real estate photographers, product photography, and portrait photography to fill in harsh shadows during indoor photography.
This can be either using an on-camera flash and bouncing it off the ceiling (for bright soft fill light) - or using an off-camera flash and having it pointed in the troubled direction (darkest of shadows).
Another benefit to using the flash to fill/eliminate the shadows is that flash pops off pure white light. When this light hits an object and reflects back into the camera sensor... the color of that object is correct. There are no white balance issues or wondering if the color is correct... This is another huge benefit to using flash indoors.
Be sure to use a softbox if you're doing indoor portraits. Sharp photos come from a soft light source on the subject's face from different angles. If you're using a single light source, be sure to diffuse it to give your subject soft lighting over the entire frame.
You can also create a better depth of field and your focal point will be easier to grab with a good on or off-camera flash.
I'm sure you're already thinking about the cons. I mean, nothing is perfect... and neither is using flash to fill shadows.
First - you have to purchase and carry around the flash whenever you need it. Obvious, right? Yeah, but it's something people need to think about before purchasing.
The second, and maybe less obvious, there are a lot of indoor historical locations that do not allow flash. At all. Like, they have security sitting and watching you, to ensure you aren't using it (Biltmore Estate, for instance).
Depending on what indoor photography you're getting into (or already are), on or off-camera flash may be the way you should go!
Artificial Light To Fill In Shadows
This is one of the least desired. There are times when I wish I had just left the deep shadows in the photo and tried to lift them while editing.
The reason artificial light (like lamps, overhead lights, etc...) is that the quality of the light's output isn't usually great. At least, not great for photography.
I am not referring to continuous lighting setups for portrait photography. That is for another article.
Remember when we talked about white balance and how different color temperatures will change the result of your image? Well, imagine having to worry about that all of the time. Not only that artificial light will cast that color over everything in close proximity. This leads to color inaccuracies throughout your image.
I never really paid attention to this when I was first learning photography. An image was an image, regardless of color, right? No, I was completely wrong.
I constantly second-guessed myself on whether the colors were correct when I went to edit them. This led me to believe that it would have been better if I had never turned the light on in the first place.
Now, If this is something you can't avoid. There is literally no light (like in a basement) and you must use something other than a flash - go for it. Just be prepared (and really remember the colors of the rooms) to dive a bit deeper to get the correct colors.
BONUS: Bracket Your Photos
I thought I would throw in a little bonus. Just another thing you can have in your back pocket and use it when you need to.
I'm sure you've heard of HDR or HDR photography. This is achieved by obtaining all of the detail in the highlights, mid-tones, and shadows of an image. You then combine all of those tones into one single image. This is HDR.
It's achieved by bracketing. You take a series of 3,5, or 9 images in a row - all with exposure differences. A three bracket would have one image at -2 exposure, 0 exposure, and +2 exposure (on the exposure meter). You would then take those images into lightroom, combine and merge them together, then boom! You have a truly professional HDR (unlike the fake HDR photos seen on camera phones).
This technique can really help you if you find yourself without any other options. There are also a lot of real estate agents and property owners that love this look, but of course, others don't.
If you do this technique correctly the shadows in your image will be gone; leaving you the freedom to add shadows throughout the image as you please (using lightroom or photoshop, of course).
The Technique I Recommend The Most
This is hands down, flash. Either on or off-camera.
If the ceiling of the establishment is black (yes, this does exist, in nightclubs for the most part) - I'll use an off-camera flash to fill in shadows throughout the scene. There is nothing better than actually avoiding shadows while having perfectly accurate colors. Nothing beats it.
Now, if I am not able to use a flash where I'm currently shooting, I'll use HDR. Bracketing is such a great way to get 'about' the same quality. It just takes a bit longer.
If I wasn't able to do either of those (because my camera didn't allow me to) - I would have to lean on window light. This leaves the artificial light (existent on the property), dead last... and for good reason.
There You Have It! You Now Know How To Avoid Shadows In Indoor Photography!
Not that difficult, right?
Just remember, you can really never avoid shadows... shadows are always there. Your job is to fill them with light. Eliminate them so they aren't a problem.
You now have 4 techniques to eliminate shadows in indoor photography and knowledge about shutter speed, ISO, and aperture (be sure to open it all the way up). I would highly recommend reading the related articles in those fields if you need a refresher.
Below is a related video that may dive deeper than I did into this subject. I apologize in advance, this is not my video or me in it. I plan to start creating videos in the future - when the time is right.
As always, feel free to reach out through our contact page or message us directly, [email protected] if you have any questions at all. We answer everything that comes in (be sure to give us at least 24 hours to get back to you).
2022 marks our fourth year in business and my 8th year in photography. I have learned so much about not only photography, running a business, and everything web-related... I've learned so much about myself. Truly determining my passions and constantly learning and improving has gotten me to where I am today.