Lesson Of The Month
Creating Natural Light Indoors

Lesson Of The Month

Photos © 2002, Ben Clay, All Rights Reserved

Have you ever come across a portrait or architectural shot that looks as though the lighting was completely natural, only to find out later that it was artificially lit? It's a sign of a good photographer who can use artificial light (strobes, hot lights) without it being noticeable, so that the viewer is drawn to the subject matter, as opposed to the lighting gear just outside of the frame.

There are many situations where artificial lighting isn't necessary to render a good photograph. In other situations, however, it is vital. This lesson demonstrates how to create an even, soft fill light in a room primarily backlit with sunlight to create a natural-looking portrait.

When shooting inside a room lit with daylight, it can be a challenge to control the often high level of contrast, particularly with portraits. Unless you can bounce the light coming through the window into the shadow side of your subject, you will likely capture the scene with a high level of contrast. High contrast isn't necessarily a bad thing, but for portraits and architectural shots it can often be a little too severe.


To illustrate, I asked my wife, Heather, to pose here for a living room portrait. It was mid-morning, and the sun shone through the rear windows creating a backlight scene. I set my Olympus E-10 digital camera on a tripod, framed up the shot, set the aperture to its smallest diameter to achieve the maximum depth of field (f/11 with the E-10), and set the shutter speed to render a good exposure on Heather (#1).

While the result shows a decent exposure on Heather, the back of the room is distractingly overexposed.

To compensate for the bright background, I increased the shutter speed to darken the overall exposure and took another shot. But as you might have predicted, the result rendered Heather as being too dark (#2).


Reviewing the shot, I realized I liked the exposure on the back end of the room and now I just needed to throw some diffused light on Heather and the foreground. I set up a Photoflex 5-foot OctoDome softbox, attached a Quantum portable strobe head and power pack to it, and secured it to a Photoflex LiteStand. I brought the OctoDome in as close as I could without having it enter the frame to create a large, diffused light source. Once it was positioned, I powered it up.


I mounted a Quantum Radio Slave sender to the hot shoe of my camera and attached the receiver to the flash head to be able to trigger the flash wirelessly. I adjusted the flash power manually and took a series of shots until the exposure looked good in the back of the camera. One of the nice things about shooting digitally with strobe equipment is that you can see your lighting ratios immediately on the LCD of your camera, eliminating the need to invest in a light meter or pay for test Polaroids the way you do with film. It's also a lot faster shooting digitally (#3 and #4).


The OctoDome served as a nice fill light to the light coming through the windows, but I noticed that the right ride of Heather looked a little dark. To give the overall shot a brighter feel, I brought in a Photoflex 32" MultiDisc attached to a LiteDisc Holder and LiteStand to the other side of Heather and positioned it so that the Soft Gold side would reflect light thrown from the OctoDome into the shadows (#5 and #6).

Without making any adjustments to the camera, I took another shot (Final Image).

Notice how the lighting in the result looks balanced. There are no shadows cast from the OctoDome or MultiDisc, nor do these light sources make the shot look artificially lit.


It's good to know how to adjust your lighting ratios so that you can achieve the look you're after. And as we've demonstrated here, having the right lighting tools will make a huge difference in the quality of your results.

Technical Equipment

Camera/Media: Olympus E-10 digital camera; Manfrotto 3021 tripod with 410 head; 128MB CompactFlash card
Lighting: Photoflex 5-foot OctoDome softbox; Quantum Q-Flash strobe and power pack; Quantum wireless Radio Slave sync; Photoflex 32" MultiDisc; Photoflex LiteDisc Holder; 2 Photoflex LS-2214 LiteStands

This lesson will be posted in the free public section of the Web Photo School at: www.webphotoschool.com. You will be able to enlarge the photos from thumbnails. If you would like to continue your digital step by step education lessons on editing, printing, and e-mailing your photos it will be on the private section of the Web Photo School. To enroll for WPS just go to www.shutterbug.net and click on WPS Free Lessons.