Lighting Tips for Indoor Photography

After I shared some pictures I took with the HTC One a few weeks back, I saw a lot of questions about the use of light in my photos.  While I did use some external light source and backgrounds, there was nothing too expensive or too difficult for anyone to try at home.

From lamps and bulbs to backgrounds and sheets, here are a few tricks to better control indoor lighting and create a better photo.

Use a Lamp

RTakagi_lampNo matter what camera you’re using, lighting can make or break a photo, especially indoors.

Whenever I am shooting portraits indoors, I use an architect’s lamp (sometimes called a drafting lamp).  It’s a versatile lamp with multiple pivot points that make it very easy to move around and change the focus of the light. The movement this lamp allows makes it easy to strengthen or lessen the lighting for the subject.  You can usually pick up one of these lamps online or at a local retail store for less than $20.

Choosing the Right Bulb

2013-04-30 09.19.27In addition to a lamp, make sure you’re using a good daylight-balanced bulb. The trick is to get the right bulb for the desired look. In my lamp, I use a CFC bulb, the curled energy efficient bulbs that are very popular now, with a Kelvin rating between 4,000 and 5,000 (you’ll find the Kelvin rating on box, usually near the wattage rating), which provides a nice clean and crisp white light.

Use a Portable LED

Another easy to use lighting tool is a dimmable LED light panel, which can be purchased online for less than for $30. The LED panel I have contains 160 white light LEDs.  I use this light for rings, food, or just adding fill light to smaller objects. These panels typically come with slide in filters that can be used to emulate different lighting types, such as a warmer tungsten light or a soft pinkish light.

Here’s an example of a picture using the portable LED light mounted on a mini tripod. In this example, there are no adjustments to the exposure on the camera, instead, I dimmed the LED lights change the warmth of the subject.


Creating a Window Cover

I love using natural light whenever possible, but it isn’t typically as versatile as a lamp. Why? You can easily move your lamp or LED panel but a window is stationary.  While I sometimes make use of window light, there are a few things you can do to better control the light.

First, if there is a curtain at the windows, try pulling out the inner part of the drapes.  Many times this can be used to leave a nice soft light. If there isn’t an interior sheer curtain, try hanging up a thin white sheet to change the setting and mood.



This shot was taken with the new HTC One using the tips outlined in this post

I also use several different fabrics for backgrounds. I like placing a darker fabric behind the subject because it lends warmth to a shot.  If you use a background like this, avoid getting shiny fabric because they will reflect back into the light, possibly ruining your photo.

Cupcakes - Taken with the HTC One
These are just a few of the simple and inexpensive tricks you can use to make sure you get the best-shot possible.

  • Martin Dolan

    That is great info. Lighting really does make the biggest difference. I Just had a quick look on line for the LED Panel lights, I will get a couple of those.
    You mentioned that you photograph rings etc. I make jewellery and small sci-fi art sculptures, and the biggest issue I have when trying to photograph things with my HTC One X is focus. On a DSLR you can manually adjust focus, with a point and shoot camera you can aim the camera at something the correct focus distance and “Half Press” the shutter button which will lock the focus, then line up and take the shot you want.
    My question is, How can I do this on the HTC OneX (& HTC One when I get it). As you probably know, taking a photo of something small, curved and reflective is a nightmare for getting the focus right at the best of times. Add to that the phone keeps changing what it is focusing on and .. Wahhhhha!
    Any tips appreciated.
    Also a suggested feature to have an option in settings to have the camera focus lock or be adjusted somehow. I know it’s tricky as you cant really “half press” a touch screen 🙂

    • ricktakagi

      Hey Martin, I love using the One X to shoot macro type photos. I always have the camera mounted on a tripod and then touch the screen on the item that should be the focal point, works great. Is that the way your choosing the focal point of the shot? The other nice thing about focusing like that is that the exposure for the subject will also be corrected. Let me know if that works for you.

      • Martin Dolan

        I try tapping on the screen but sometimes it just refuses to focus on that point. I think a tripod might help. What do you use to hold the camera on the tripod?
        Do you use the macro setting? HDR or Normal? (I know that can depend on the shot also, but HDR would need a tripod for sure)

        • ricktakagi

          Hey Martin, I don’t know what to tell you about the inability to focus on the chosen subject. You can find tripod mounts that work great from several different sources. I highly recommend searching one out and carrying it with you. You’ll see a big difference in the quality of your photos. Most people think that their hand is being steady when handholding a photo but chance’s are that it’s not. Here’s a link to a photo of the clamp I use with my One X+. I don’t know if you can get these anymore but give ebay a try.


          • Martin Dolan

            Awesome, I’ll look out for one of those smartphone holders, or something similar. I think my autofocus issues were poor light, which the LED panel lights you suggested will fix.
            Thanks so much for your help!

  • http://lunniey.com lunniey

    I love this tips 😀 thank you so much Rick! I would love to see more tips from about HTC One photography..

    • ricktakagi

      Thanks for the kind words! I’ll be working on more soon.