Alley in Pisa, Italy

by Lars Kotthoff

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I have a Panasonic lumix fz47 and when taking photos inside, unless I have a lot of window light, the photos are always a slightly funny colour or a bit grainy. When I use the flash it is way too bright and the photos look awful.

How can I take natural looking photos of my kids inside? What settings should I use?

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possible duplicate of What are some tips for shooting in low light? –  mattdm Aug 13 '12 at 22:37
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You are inside and likely under a mixture of florescent, incandescent, and natural light - outdoors you just see natural light. So yes inside you aren't going to have photos that look naturally lit unless you do some groundwork with lighting! You can try to overpower all other lighting with an external flash unit, or turn off some of the lights in the house to limit the mixing! –  dpollitt Aug 13 '12 at 22:47
    
Although the linked questions above are helpful this question appears to be more about using a compact camera without all the useful features of a DSLR + flash rig so not an exact duplicate have edited the question for review –  Clara Onager Aug 14 '12 at 8:18
    
@Clara, one of those questions clearly references a point and shoot and is very, very similar. –  mattdm Aug 15 '12 at 3:31

5 Answers 5

I have not used this particular camera before, however I do feel that there are a few ways to get around shooting inside with low light. You can either increase iso thus gaining grain to the photo. Buy a prime lens giving you a fixed zoom but with a larger aperture opening (which I recommend as you can get some great shallow depth of field or vice versa), play with the white balance until you get the right colours then shout your kids over, or by a flash gun/turn lights on/open window etc to fill the room with more light in order to get the shot that you are after or.. a mixture of all.

When I used to shoot gigs I wasn't allowed flash, so I had to bump the iso up, use the largest aperture on my prime lens which was !:6 then lower the shutter speed which was risky but the only way I could do it, and was basically a hit and hope, not that I didn't achieve some great shots.

This is my first post on here, so hopefully I have helped. Also, I find mirrors and light furniture a cheeky way to get some light.

All the best.

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+1 for great first post. Welcome! :) –  William C Aug 14 '12 at 14:50
    
This camera doesn't have interchangeable lenses, though. –  Eric Aug 15 '12 at 0:57
    
then maybe the best option in your situation is to play with either an external flash, or find some DIY tips online in order to bounce the current flash from the ceiling to give you nice lighting. I used to use a mirror, a bit of blue tac and some duck tape to make my camera's flash do wonders and a bit of tissue like @Clara Onager said. –  Juju Aug 15 '12 at 10:02
    
Good luck :) and thanks @William C –  Juju Aug 15 '12 at 10:05

The cheapest solution is to use the on camera flash but tape a piece of tissue paper over it first. This will soften the flash and reduce the harshness but there's only so much you can do with a compact camera.

Edit: Just checked what your camera looks like. Another option is to tape an index card at an angle in front of the pop up flash, this will bounce the flash onto the ceiling to provide a soft natural looking light, althouhg there may still be colour balance problems depending on the colour of the ceiling.

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the white index card off a white ceiling is your easiest and cheapest solution. You may have to adjust the exposure compensation. –  Pat Farrell Aug 14 '12 at 17:43

There are two issues here - the funny colors and the grain.

Funny colors

The light we see around us isn't really white, every light source emits light in a different color and our brain fixes it so it looks white, the camera isn't nearly as good at this as our brain and when it misses we get strange colors.

This is called "white balance", there are several things you can do to fix this - here is the list from the simplest solution to the most complex:

  1. Never have more than one kind of light source in the picture.

    for example, indecent light bulbs emit yellow light, florescent has a green cast and sunlight is blue - if you have all 3 in a single picture there's nothing the camera can do to adjust to all 3.

    if you only have one type of light for each picture the camera auto white balance feature will generally do an ok job and the colors won't be accurate but they also won't be strange.

    you should test this because, while most of teh time everything will be ok, some light sources will confuse the auto white balance and produce ridicules results.

  2. Set your white balance.

    Your camera has white balance presets (daylight, shade, indecent, florescent, etc.) you can use when the auto white balance gets it wrong, if you use the right preset for the situation you are likely to get better results.

    The problem with the presets that not all light bulbs from the same technology emit the same color light, this is especially true for florescent bulbs where the modern blubs are actually available at different white balances and practically all of them are different than the old florescent bulbs that the camera's florescent setting compensate for.

    Also, florescent lights flicker and constantly change color (see other questions on this site) but newer types of bulbs are much better than the old ones.

  3. Set a custom white balance

    See you camera manual to see how to do this but it generally involves taking a picture of a white surface and telling the camera to use this picture as a white balance reference.

    If you have only one kind of light in the image this will solve your white balance issues, but it does require you to reset your white balance every time you move between rooms or the light changes so it gets annoying fast.

  4. Set white balance in post

    I don't know if your camera has teh option to shoot raw files, if it does you can just make sure you have something white or gray in the image, shoot in raw and fix the white balance in post processing.

    The big problem with this is that this requires you to have a raw processor and to post process all your images, I think this is too much for shooting family pictures but I wrote this here for completeness.

Grain

What you are seeing is called "noise" and is caused by not having enough light.

You have 3 options here:

  1. Get more light - open the windows, turn on the lights, do whatever you can to get as much light as possible into the room (but be careful about different kinds of lights so you won't get the white balance problems)

    If your camera has a standard flash hot-shoe, has manual mode and can support a manual flash then a cheap manual flash like the YN-460 (about $40 new on eBay) will solve your problem.

    However - you need to learn to use it, the reason an external flash is better is because it has the power and flexibility to do things like bounce the light if you just aim the big external flash directly at your kid you won't get natural pictures.

  2. Fix the noise in post processing - there are some really wonderful programs that can reduce noise, I don't have experience with any of them so I can't recommend a specific one.

  3. Get a better camera - (again, this is here for completeness and I'm not really recommending this for you) cameras that have physically larger sensors have less noise (if the cameras are from the same generation, newer sensors are better than old ones) that's why the big DSLRs have less noise than point and shoots.

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your "natural looking" criteria are a vague. If you are willing to spend about $150, then the solution to get better photos is to get an off camera flash. I don't agree with @nir that using something such as a YN-460 on camera will be that much of an improvement. But off-camera flash is the way to take better photos with flash.

Your camera has neither a standard hotshoe nor a PC-sync connector, so you will have to use your pop-up flash as the trigger. This works well if you have a manual flash such as a LumoPro LP160, that has an optical slave. Just put a piece of opaque white paper over the flash to bounce it off the ceiling, and have your camera's flash trigger the LP160.

Make sure that the off-camera flash is off it. Move it a couple of feet to the left or right, and try both level and raised.

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Easiest way?

Go to the windows and use window light. Your camera will function best with that quantity of light. While you can take photos in lower light, you'll get the grainy effect you noted.

If you have sufficient light, but the skin is too yellow, try changing the white balance to tungsten. See if that works. You will still need a lot of artificial light to get the same quantity as you'd get through windows using natural light.

Unfortunately, your camera has some limitations, and low-light photography of moving subjects isn't its strongest suit. So give it more light.

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