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Photography Question 

Shooting Interiors with Natural Light

My girlfriend, a designer, has asked me to shoot several bars and clubs for her folio. I have tried with very mixed results. Some of the images look very grey. What film and/or flash techniques should I use to prevent badly exposed images that capture the available light? I have a Nikon N90 and SB25 flash.

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6/3/2003 12:11:27 AM

Maynard  McKillen   If you haven't tried, you might check the bookshelves of camera stores in your area that cater to professional photographers. "How-to" books on specific subjects such as shooting interiors will frequently show an image, then present diagrams that show how many lights were used to create the seemingly natural looking result.
This intro tips you off to something: those photos of interiors that grace portfolios and interior design magazines are often taken with four or more light sources, flash or tungsten, and those lights are frequently bounced off of white ceilings, mounted in softboxes, sometimes with louvres on them, controlled with barn doors, top hats (also called snoots) or other light control devices, and, in the case of flash, triggered with radio slaves or optical slaves.
The photographer frequently takes numerous readings of the flash and ambient light, and has to spend time carefully positioning lights to avoid unwanted reflections off of mirrors, windows, chrome, and varnished or polyurethaned wood.

This is one tall order, made more challenging by the kind of lighting that is found in bars and clubs.
You may find yourself renting additional lights, flash or tungsten, renting a flash meter if you choose that type of light, and parking your camera on a tripod. Frequently the photographer will use the available room lighting along with his supplemental lighting: this often requires him/her to use a slow shutter speed.

It may seem odd that you have to use so much lighting equipment to achieve a seemingly natural look, but you'll probably be surprised if you try it this way. Perhaps you can "practice" with three, four, or even more lights on a room in your house, adding lights one at a time, aiming them different ways, and modifying the lights with louvres, barn doors, by bouncing the light off of white ceilings, etc. This is an empirical (trial and error) approach, but you'll see the effects with your own eyes as you add and modify lights.

Photographing interiors can be more challenging than many people imagine, and setting up that lighting equipment, and aiming it, can be more time consuming than you anticipated. Is your girlfriend willing to help you haul and set up that equipment?

Perhaps these comments may help you both acquire a sense of how involved this process is. You may see it either as a can of worms, or an adventure. I tend toward the latter...

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6/3/2003 7:58:36 AM

Matt    Thanks Maynard for your comments. Is it possible to take the opposite approach and expose for the natural light using a tripod?? If you use a digital would you not "see what you're going to get" in the LCD?

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6/10/2003 4:37:35 AM

Maynard  McKillen   Dear Matt:
Shooting in digital format certainly offers the advantage of seeing the resulting photo instantly. I keep in mind that these places, bars and clubs, are not known for bright, even illumination, and that digital camera pick-up devices do resemble film in at least one way: neither responds to the potential range of luminance the way the human eye does. I suspect that a dark corner of a room may simply record as black, a light colored countertop may simply record as white, etc.
The extra sources of illumination I suggested in the first response served to even out the wide range of luminance so that film, or a digital pick-up device, record the room the way that your eye already sees it, or at least in a way that makes the image easy to print and view. I suspect details in the highlight and shadow areas may not record well without additional illumination.
On the other hand, shooting without additional lighting may produce more dramatic interiors. The images may have areas of black and areas of white that juxtapose nicely. If you shoot in digital format, you may also want to experiment with "tweaking" the image by masking selective areas, altering the brightness and contrast, changing the color balance and making other adjustments in a program like Photoshop.
Imagine shooting the interiors without supplemental lighting, but bringing some along and taking some photos with that supplemental lighting, even if that lighting consists of only, say, two flash units or two tungsten floodlights. Those supplemsntal light sources would probably be most effective if they were bounced into umbrellas or off of a white ceiling. You'd have images shot under both lighting conditions and could see which were more pleasing.

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6/10/2003 8:07:41 AM

Shirley D. Cross-Taylor
BetterPhoto Member Since: 1/7/2001
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  Matt, everything Maynard says is true. However, before going to all that trouble, try having them turn on all the lights, and set up your camera on a tripod, without flash, and take long exposures of the available light. (I also have a Nikon N90.) Be sure to bracket your exposures. Depending upon the type of available lighting, I've gotten some really good photos this way. I got permission to photograph a restaurant/bar after hours where they had a mix of tungsten and neon. The photos turned out beautifully, and I was using ISO 100 daylight film. Good luck!


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6/10/2003 1:47:37 PM

Matt    Thanks Shirley and Manyard for your ongoing feedback. It is very much appreciated.

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6/11/2003 4:27:22 AM

Tony Gough   Another way of lighting this with only one flash would be to devide your exposure eg if the average exposure was f16 at 2 seconds and you had to light four different areas in the scene all you would need to do would be set your camera to multiple exposure and make 4 exposures at f16 at 1/2 second. Carefully placing the flash out of camera view and pointing to the areas that need lighting. Set the flash at f16. The flash could be triggered with a cable or slave system. I hope this make some sense. Good luck, Tony.

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10/13/2003 8:27:45 PM

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