Alley in Pisa, Italy

by Lars Kotthoff

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I sometimes have to shoot in an enclosed space, a living room that is somewhat similar to the picture below. There generally is a large French window on one side that is streaming in sunlight of late afternoon. The remaining three sides of the room do not have any windows and if there are, they are tiny and with frosted glass so they do not count as much towards lighting. The left part of the room which is sunlit has no other lights. The right part of the room is lit with CFLs. And I am shooting because of an event that is happening and that means there are quite a number of people and kids doing their things. I generally shoot standing somewhere in the middle of the room, close to the sofa in the middle.

One of the problems I have had is the extreme difference in subject lighting. This has meant I have had to change shutter speeds, stops and even ISO frequently based on which side of the room I am shooting. All this means, I miss some shots that I would have liked to take. Hardware wise, because of low light conditions, I use a 35mm, 1.8 prime instead of the kit of 18-55 on my D3000 and that's what I have got.

So my question is what are your tips to shooting in such a space? Perhaps you have suggestions to where I should stand, any lighting I might use in the rooms, seating arrangements of guests, any useful shooting modes apart from Manual, etc. Ideally, I would want not to go buy extra hardware apart from what I have mentioned already. However, if you do think this is a case where the limits of hardware have been reached and that I should go buy hardware, please do explain the benefits to this particular shooting scenario.

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Turn off all of the lights, open up the windows/blinds/shades to bring in outdoor light, add wireless flash units to the dark areas(gel if necessary). Boom done. You could also do the opposite, which would be close all windows/blinds/shades, CTO/or green gel flash units to match the artificial lighting. Or you could gel the artificial lighting if that is easier for you. –  dpollitt May 21 '13 at 2:23
    
Is the ceiling low enough and white enough to use bounce flash? If so, that would be the first simple thing you can do. The other is to position yourself behind the light that there is, to the extent that you can. You really don't want to be shooting into the light. Another approach is to take more closeups. The lighting will vary less over a small subject than a large one. –  Olin Lathrop Jul 2 '13 at 23:22
    
Its a typical Canadian apartment/home so ceilings are low enough. Thanks for the tip on closeups. –  Regmi Jul 3 '13 at 19:18
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5 Answers 5

Fill flashes and auto exposure with TTL is my main suggestion. A lower end camera might have trouble with it, but a good mid-range to high end DSLR should be able to use a fill flash to prevent backlighting issues and figure out the exposure needed within an acceptable range.

You might also have to use spot metering because the harsh mix of lighting may throw off average and evaluative metering.

If able, you could get multiple wireless flash units and set them up around the room to help, but I'd suggest starting with a single flash unit to get used to it and see how well it works in your environment before making a more considerable investment.

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I will admit I am a bit confused why you would choose this arrangement for photo shoots, even if informal, since you say you do it fairly often. I would say move the kitchen to the other end of the room! ;)

Seriously, I am a fan of natural lighting most of the time, even if this increases contrast. However, given your lens, I assume your intent is not to catch interesting details in their faces.

Fill is, of course, the answer since this setting is essentially a covered outdoor shoot because of the size of the window (and time of day).

I would favour setting up screens between the window and the room. Especially if they are pitched upward to reflect a large portion of the light toward the ceiling, thus spreading it about the room more evenly.

This will mitigate the intensity of the light source (sun) thus immediately reducing the contrast problem, and simultaneously provide fill, even furthering that effect.

However, if your intent is to make the outdoor scene as much a part of the shot as the group, then you have little choice but to fill with an intensity that rivals the meter reading you get from the outdoor scene itself.

For that I would suggest a couple of powerful spots (wide open), again, pointed at the ceiling, tipped slightly toward the shoot, roughly in line with your position (one to each side of the room). Even then a filtered flash off to the "dark side" might be needed. Matching the intensity of sunlight is no easy feat. For colour balance it might be necessary to filter the spots blue and use a standard daylight lens filter.

P.S. If spots are not in the budget, tall torch lamps with bright bulbs and opaque shades are useful, but keep any hotspots they cast on the walls out of frame. I used to use something similar when shooting indoor real estate on gloomy days/nights to simulate light from outdoors.

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Ken and AJ Henderson have given you the key points - fill flash is what you need here. I would even go as far as to suggest considering buying one or two off camera flashes - which could for example bounce against the ceiling or bounce against the ceiling with a diffuser to spread light and supply some indirect light sources.

Unfortunately you will not get around experimenting a lot with the suggestions you get get.

The other issue you mention of changing settings: Look at the semi-automatic modes on your camera and make good use of them. They are ideal for situations such as these where you have rapidly changing light. Setting for example aperture priority would allow you to set the aperture and then let the camera do the rest (with the right metering mode - possibly spot metering given the lighting). Again, you would need to test which setup works best for you.

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For groups I would avoid direct flash as it will light unevenly across the whole group unless you get multiple flashes from different positions which can be difficult.

First, I would try to soften the light from the window. If it's not in the shot I would put a white sheet over it and if it is in the shot then hopefully the curtains don't suck for the situation.

Then I would see about trying to reflect/bounce off of reflectors on the floor. Again, for groups this will take a few, but seems like if you had a handful of them on the floor it could be enough.

If I were going to use flash on a group I would try to bounce them off of the walls behind me and/or the ceiling above me. I imagine that you'll quickly run into issues with flash on groups because your aperture will need to be smaller for the DoF.

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That sounds like a great environment for using a reflector. They are cheap, and it is amazing how much a simple thing like that can change light.

http://www.amazon.com/Neewer-110CM-Collapsible-Multi-Disc-Reflector/dp/B002ZIMEMW/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1372807035&sr=8-1&keywords=reflector

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