Join Seán Duggan for an in-depth discussion in this video Creative interior lighting with your camera phone, part of Mobile Photography Weekly.
- Hey everybody, Sean here and this week on Mobile Photography Weekly we're going to talk about some really simple lighting techniques that you can use to create an interior portrait. So, you know, camera phones have a built in flash on them and often times when you're in an interior environment that flash is going to come on automatically especially if it's a little bit darker. You know, the light from a flash on a mobile phone is nothing to write home about. It gets the job done, it illuminates your subject but it's really not that flattering. And the other thing is is that if you're taking a portrair of somebody inside a lot of the times the impulse is just to take the quick shot wherever you happen to be.
But what I want to encourage you to do is if you are asked to make a portrait of somebody in an interior environment or you choose to do so yourself, rather than just taking that picture right where you are investigate the environment where you are. Look at all the potential light sources and how you might be able to use them to create a better portrait with better more flattering light for your subject. So, we're going to start off here with a daylight scene. We have this nice little window alcove to take a picture and you might notice that the light coming down on me here could be a little bit harsh because the sun is kind of right up there, so I'm a little bit maybe more in the sun.
So, I'm actually going to take the picture on the other side here because it's a little bit softer and a little bit more flattering to my subject. So, window light is going to be your main light source in an interior environment so you don't have to use the flash. Ideally, you want to find window light where you don't have direct sun coming in. You want to have indirect light coming in. It could be a north facing window especially if it's in a winter environment, north facing light is really beautiful and soft. It can be coming through curtains, that's fine.
In this case here, I've got this soft light here because the sun is coming up this way. So it's not coming in direct on my subject here. But I notice that I have a little bit of a shadow on this side. So, let me just set this up here and we'll take our first shot of Brittany and I'm going to do two shots here just to sort of show something. Do one with the normal lens and I have an IPhone 7 plus here which has two lenses so I can tap the telephoto lens and then I can get a little bit closer in and the difference between the wide angle and the telephoto lens is important for portraiture because the wide angle lens tends to be not as flattering.
You typically have to get closer to the subject if you want to fill the frame with their face and it's just not as flattering as the portrait lens. So, if you have a phone that has dual lenses that might have a built in portrait lens, by all means use that portrait lens. If you don't have a phone like that, consider getting an add on lens that has that moderate telephoto length. Usually it's about 58 or 60 millimeters or something like that; much better lens for portraiture. Alright, so this is looking good. Looking very nice there, Brittany.
I like it overall, I really like it a lot, but these shadows on this side of the face are bothering me a bit so what I'm going to do is I have a fill card already set up here. And this fill card is nothing fancy at all. It's just a piece of two by three foot poster board and I have it set up on a lamp here and I just have this attached with magnets; very very simple. You could use tape if you wanted to, it doesn't have to be anything complicated or expensive.
I'm going to bring that in as close as I can here. So, now I have this white card which is punching in some fill light on this side. We'll come back here, oh that looks nice, I like it. Why don't you look out this way just a little bit Brittany; back to me. Good, excellent, let's come back here and take a look at these. Yeah, definitely, it looks much much nicer with that fill card in there; gets rid of those hard shadows.
So, that's just a real simple technique that you can use to take advantage of natural window light in pretty much any interior situation using just materials you might find lying around. Whether it is a piece of white poster board or you could use a white shirt or a white dress. Just have that hanging up there or if you have somebody else to help you, they can hold it up and that's really going to make for a much more flattering portrait. So, later on we're going to come back after it gets dark and take a look at some solutions for how we might light an interior portrait when we can't take advantage of the daylight.
Alright, well we're back, it's obviously night time now. Though through the magic of video editing, that's taken only a few seconds and not several hours. And we're in the same location for our portrait, but we can't take advantage of the beautiful daylight that we had earlier in the day to light our shot. So, we have to get a little bit creative with bringing in some artificial lights. So, rather than rely on professional photography lights, we want to use lights that we could just find around the house here. So, what we have is we have a side lamp and a floor lamp we're going to be using and we also have a white card that we're going to use to bounce in some fill light.
But, before we do that, let me just take a regular shot because in a situation like this in low light what happens usually is the flash wants to come on. And it is really bright, nice enough but the lighting's a little bit kind of flat and bright and glaring. So, let's see what we can do to bring in some additional lights here. We'll turn on this one first. We're just going to build this up and go one light at a time and see how it changes.
So, we'll come in again, there we go. And right off the bat I can see that it's a little bit hard light on this side of her face and the other side of her face is deep in shadow. So, that's not going to work, but what if we turn this one on here and try this again. Alright, still seeing a little bit of that bright highlight on the side and a little bit of shading underneath, so Brittany, why don't you bring that card up and then just hold that right in your lap there like that, there you go; maybe a little bit closer to you.
There you go, that's good. So, this is causing the light from here and also from there to bounce up and soften things out a little bit. That's looking a lot better, okay. Uhh, I think what I'm going to do is try something different with this fill card and let's put this behind here. You want reach around and grab that, there we go. So, by moving the fill card back, it's not going to be quite as bright.
It was just creating a little bit of obvious under lighting effect and so maybe this could be a little bit softer here. So, let's do this again. And if I just take a look at that really quick, yeah it's definitely a lot softer under the eyes. The other version where it was on her lap was a little bit too harsh, but I think I'm going to do is move this lamp back a bit to get it out of the shots. Something like that and you can probably just let go of that, I think it will stay.
Yeah, that's fine, now if you could move forward just a little bit. So, what I'm seeing now is really nice because we're still getting some illumination from this light in the background here but the new element in the shot is that since this light is behind her now more and she's moved forward, we've gained some really lovely kind of rim lighting and back lighting on her hair. Almost like a hair light effect. So, it looks really nice. And here we go, that looks very very nice. Definitely like that one the best.
Although, one thing I'm noticing now after reviewing all these shots is because of the color temperature of this light and that light, it's very very warm, it has a very yellow look to it. So, I think what I'm going to do is bounce in to another app that will allow me to set a custom white balance. So, I'm going to go into the Lightroom mobile camera app. There are a lot of camera apps that will let you set a white balance, this is just one that I like to use. So, Brittany, if you could take that card and then hold it there in your lap again. So, with most of these apps that allow you to set a custom white balance, you just need to focus in on a neutral area.
Fill the frame with a neutral area as this paper is and I've designated that as the new white balance. So, now I have this custom white balance and we can shoot with this, so that's great. You can go ahead and put that back the way it was. Yeah, that's good, so now I have a white balance, it's just a little bit more neutral, not quite so warm and yellow. Alright let's go, here we go, good, great. So, I definitely like the white balance a lot more in that shot and you know these pictures would also look really good in black and white.
So, you can see that if you're in an interior location and you start to think a little bit creatively about what lighting sources are available to you and you move them around and put them in position around your subject, you can build up a lighting effect that's a lot more flattering and natural looking than you can from just getting the onboard flash that's built into your camera phone.