I recently went to a one-year-old's birthday party. The event took place inside; there was some light coming through the windows from outside and there was also light from the lightbulbs in the room, although not nearly enough. I used S mode on my Nikon D5100 (with an 18-55 stock lens) in order to reduce blur as much as possible, even though I wasn't able to go too low with the speed given the lighting; I also increased ISO to about 640.

Some of the pictures came out orangey due to the lightbulbs (the white balance was set to incandescent), especially when people were sitting just below the light source, while others came out blurry, despite my effort.

What should I have done better? Would shooting in RAW have helped?

  • \$\begingroup\$ Hi Alex! Does How do I properly white-balance my photographs when I'm shooting in mixed-lighting environments? cover your question? \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Sep 27, 2011 at 20:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ When I first saw this question I read 'How to take photos of difficult children in lightning' \$\endgroup\$ Sep 27, 2011 at 23:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ @mattdm I noticed the question after I posted mine. It covers the question to a certain degree; my main problem is that I also need a fast shutter speed, further complicating matters. \$\endgroup\$
    – alex
    Sep 28, 2011 at 6:36
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    \$\begingroup\$ @enthdegree to be honest, he was being a bit difficult :) \$\endgroup\$
    – alex
    Sep 28, 2011 at 6:42

3 Answers 3


In a situation like this there is no substitute for a faster lens. Kids are a challenge to photograph at the best of times but with low light you only have two options flash which kids tend to hate or a faster larger aperture lens. Something like an f/1.8 or f/1.4 prime lens aren't too expensive and let in a lot more light than your kit lens which is f/3.5 at best. This allows you to lower the ISO and get faster shutter speeds which is essential for kids because they never keep still.

If you shoot in RAW this will give you the most options for post processing the images when you get them into your computer. With RAW white balance settings do not effect the RAW data at all so you can set the balance later individually on each image.

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    \$\begingroup\$ A fast lens will also be helpful during focusing. \$\endgroup\$
    – Imre
    Sep 27, 2011 at 22:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ Using a flash is mostly out of the question; I don't want him running away from me :). Any recommendations on fast primes that are good for portraits (and relatively cheep)? \$\endgroup\$
    – alex
    Sep 28, 2011 at 6:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ @alex: Something like a Nikon 50mm f1.4 D AF would be perfect for this, its not too expensive, is a popular choice for portraits and is very light. You want to be about 5 to 10 feet away from your subject with such a large aperture to give you a reasonable depth of field 5 to 10 inches with that lens and your camera but you can always stop it down to 1.8 or 2 if you need more DOF and less light. You basically get a lot of options for indoor photos without a flash with a lens like this. \$\endgroup\$
    – Paul Round
    Oct 1, 2011 at 10:38

AJ's Checklist For Children's Parties

Just my twopence worth - should make a good starting point...

  • Set autofocus mode to AI Servo (the Nikon term is AF-C)
  • Put your ETTL/ITTL flash on your camera
  • Put a sto-fen on the flash
  • Angle the flash up at 45 degrees or more
  • Set white balance to flash
  • Set exposure mode to apperture priority
  • Set apperture to f/5.6 (adjust to taste and circumstance!)
  • Set flash exposure compensation to -1/3 or -1/2 of a stop
  • NEVER shoot from your head level. In stead, either shoot:
    • at their level: get down on your knees
    • lower: get on your tummy or your back
    • higher: stand on a chair (dangerous!) or similar

... Have fun. hope this helps.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Good checklist, especially the points about the shooting position! \$\endgroup\$
    – alex
    Sep 28, 2011 at 19:01

Shooting kids and pets are not the easiest, but check out How to keep flash from disrupting the scene?. There is a good discussion about using off-camera flash in a way that won't tick people off. Basically, what you want to do is control the color temperature of the light reaching the subject. That typically means use a flash that is more powerful than the ambient light.

If you are using flash, it's very good to set the camera on manual, and pick a shutter speed (say, 1/200) and aperture (say, f/5.6), then let ETTL on the flash adjust its output to make that exposure correct. There comes a time when the flash isn't big enough for just any arbitrary exposure, so be watching for relatively good results as you continue to shoot. Note: at a 200th, the ambient light should no longer be a factor; just the flash. I chose f/5.6 because it is a flattering aperture for most lenses in people shots and doesn't rely on razor thin autofocus accuracy.

To answer your other question: Kinda. Shooting RAW gives you a ton of options in post that would not otherwise be easy. Still, you will have mixed light and sometimes that can't be easily corrected. It's also additional work for each frame.

As a final note: Fast lenses have advantages and disadvantages. The advantage is you let more light in (Yay!). The disadvantage is that when you do open up and let more light in, you give up depth of field, so getting perfect focus is crucial. I can tell you stories about great shots I almost got where the camera's AF picked the tip of the nose instead of the eyes and the depth of field was that shallow: from the tip of the nose to the eyes, so the eyes were not tack sharp. So be forewarned, a faster lens is not a sliver bullet but rather another tool you can use to good effect.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Perfect focus when following a 1 year old seems tricky, especially for me, as a relative newbie. The thing is, I'm a bit reticent at the idea of using flash, since it seems to bother him. I'd like to use RAW just to have more options in post (although I's also have a lot more work)... \$\endgroup\$
    – alex
    Sep 28, 2011 at 6:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ Alex, I'm with you on the flash (which is why I asked the linked question). For my own toddler pictures, I've mostly used the 50mm f/1.8 -- and often ISO 1600 as well, since actually going down to f/1.8 gives you the problem with super narrow depth-of-field Steve mentions here. I'm still learning... \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael H.
    Sep 28, 2011 at 17:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ Well, it might seem obvious or silly, but when faced with this kind of situation, shoot way more than you normally would. That way, you'll have backups for the out-of-focus images. Also, if your one-year old is going to be a subject for long (and I suspect that's the case), getting used to a flash gently may be a good thing. \$\endgroup\$
    – Steve Ross
    Sep 28, 2011 at 18:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ Sans flash, I sometimes take dozens of pictures for a single scene (and then eventually get around to sorting through them). I'm definitely in the "quantity helps quality" camp right now, but I'm hoping to change that. \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael H.
    Sep 29, 2011 at 14:29

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