As winter gets closer, and sunset/golden hour happens during work/school hours, it’s a great opportunity to work on nailing and exploring your indoor light. It’s a common struggle to feel limited with windows, gloomy days, and your home, particularly if you have tiny humans who create large messes.
While simple window light can be really beautiful, there are other fun ways to create magical light that will transform your photos to something truly spectacular, all while staying warm and cozy inside your own home.
Here are four simple indoor tricks to explore your light, step outside the box, and be inspired to try new light sources.
Fairy lights, string lights, whatever you want to call them, they are a winter favorite for good reason: they instantly create a sense of magic and coziness.
You can hang them up against the wall and use them to create a sparkly bokeh background. Position your subject reasonably far from the lights and shoot at a wide aperture (as wide as your lens goes, ideally 1.4-2.0).
This is easier with at least a 50 mm or longer lens, but can also be achieved with a wide angle if you get close to your subject and keep the lights far to the back.
Another fun trick is to hold the lights up in a loop near your lens and use them to frame your subject. Experiment with positioning the lights in different ways in front and to the side of your lens.
The trick once again is to keep your aperture fairly wide open to render the lights out of focus and into beautiful gold bokeh.
Or, simply put the string lights into a jar and use them as a light source that resembles fireflies.
Nowadays, there are so many fun types of projectors you can buy to create amazing lights on your wall and ceiling. We have a moon and stars projector that my kids use for dance parties when it’s dark, but it’s also a stunning light for dramatic indoor photos.
I find the easiest way to use these is when it’s dim but not entirely dark out. This keeps my ISO from maxing out and makes it easier for my camera to focus.
I then edit the shadows darker and the light more high-contrast and dramatic.
Other options to explore are rainbow projectors, northern light style lights, whatever fun new thing that is available to purchase! Crank up your ISO, expose for the projector light, and shoot as wide open as you dare.
Most of us have lamps and lanterns around the house, and they are so easy to use to create soft, golden light. Lamp shades and paper lanterns work as diffusers to make the shadows soft and create shiny, big catchlights in eyes.
We have a cheap paper lantern with a cord set that I let my kids play with sometimes. The round shape has a whimsical moon effect. Keeping the lamp high and close to the face creates flattering warm light.
Play with the color balance to see if you like it warmer or cooler. If you are using warmer temperature light bulbs, make sure you are blocking out all of the daylight, so that you don’t get strange blue color casts.
One of the nice things about winter is that when the leaves are all gone, you can often get brighter sunlight in your home. If you notice that you get direct sun in one of your windows during the day, using a fog machine will highlight and create dramatic sun rays.
Just a few puffs with a 80:20 water/vegetable glycerin mix is enough to make the light look like it’s cascading in like a fairy tale. Let the fog settle for about 10-15 minutes, then start shooting.
This is one of the few times that I prefer to stop down a little, which helps keep the sun rays in focus and distinct. 2.8-4.0 is usually a good range.
This is just a short list to get your imagination going and help you think of different ways to have fun and play with the light inside your home. If it makes light, and you think it’s beautiful, find a way to use it.
Look purposefully for things that create light, and think of the types of light that make you happy, and create with it.
Don’t be afraid to crank your ISO up and keep your aperture wide open to take advantage of potential magical light conditions inside your home.