Photography tip – How to “see light” inside your home.

I have a Facebook group for beginner photographers (you can join here if you like).  We get together sometimes to do photo walks or to learn how to use your camera.  I post tips and tricks in the group and I would like to share one that I posted recently and it was helpful for a few people.  I hope you find it helpful as well.

Seeing the light:

Photography blogs are always talking about “seeing light” and how once we learn to “see light” we will somehow become awesome photographers. I really struggled with this concept when I first started out because they never really seemed to explain HOW to “see light” or what I was even looking for. Trust me when I say, that once you practice with thousands of photos, one day it WILL click and you’ll be like, oh yeah now I get it.

So I’m going to teach you one method to see the light indoors, in your own home. A lot of people are scared of shooting indoors and for good reason. If you have your camera on auto then it will likely automatically pop up the flash to get more light for the exposure (pop-up flash is the devil and should be avoided at all costs. haha!). Either that or the camera will slow the shutter speed so much that your subjects will always be blurry. This is why we are always encouraged to start learning manual or semi-manual modes/settings, because YOU can control what the camera does in these circumstances.

* Window light stage right.
* Baby is on a dark coloured bed so their skin stands out.
* Post-processing involves straightening the image so the bedhead is horizontal, crop to more of a rule of thirds, darken the blacks and any other major highlights on the bed.

This image won me a silver at the QLD state awards last year!  –>>

Photography tips how to see light indoors

Window light behind the mum. Overexpose the image so that the window behind is blown out.  –>>

Photography tips how to see light indoors

The magic trick:

For me, when I am looking at indoor light I am either looking for something really ethereal or really dramatic. I love to look for “pockets” of light that draw attention to my subject and the rest of the area goes into darkness. As photographers, especially portrait photographers, we should always be looking for “separation” of our subject from their surroundings, whether you do that through shallow depth of field or lighting is up to you. I’m going to tell you one simple way that you can begin to “see” those pockets of light more easily. Change your camera setting to shoot in black and white. Yep it’s that simple. Try it now. Change it to black and white and start taking photos around your home. It lets you visualise more easily where and how the light falls. I learnt this trick from a Peter Coulson workshop by the way. Check out his work, he is awesome!

For those shooting in RAW, don’t worry, your images will flip back to RAW colour once you import them into Lightroom or wherever you edit. If you are shooting in jpeg resolution then they will stay black and white. The image on the back of your viewfinder is NOT the RAW image, it is a jpeg version that the camera has converted for us to look at.

Do you notice how you can see the light and dark a bit better? Try bringing your exposure right down until you notice pockets of light that you could place a subject (child) into.


* Dramatic side light.
* The whites and skin stand out from the background when converted to black and white.  –>>

Photography tips how to see light indoors

* Garage light! Love me some garage light.
* Place your subject at the front of the garage closest to the edge of light. The light falls off quickly behind them.
* Post-processing – remove some distracting background areas. –>>

Photography tips how to see light indoors

Exposing for the highlights:

I always shoot to preserve my highlights. That means when I am adjusting my settings for the exposure I want, I don’t want to “blow out”, or make completely white, the brightest areas of my photo. Especially if the brightest areas happen to be skin! I don’t mind so much if the brightest areas are sky. To shoot like this you will want to turn on your “highlight blinkies”. You want to find the menu option that says “enable highlight alert” or something similar. Google it for your camera if you can’t find it. The photo will then “blink”/flash at you in the areas of the image which are blown out. You then know that you need to bring your exposure down a bit (increase shutter speed or decrease ISO or increase the f-number) so that they highlights don’t blow out. Using exposure this way will also help to give you creamy, lovely skin tones.

Have a look at the examples below for “pockets of light” when seen in colour compared to black and white. Remember that white skin will always stand out in the darker background anyway, so in some ways white skin creates it’s own separation from a dark background.

I’ve included two images that were shot for more of an ethereal, high key look, for comparison.


Expose for the face that is in light. The rest naturally becomes dark. –>>



* Window light to the right.
* Expose for the skin tones for dramatic side lighting. –>>

Photography tips how to see light indoors

Fairly flat lighting that covers the whole area. –>>

Photography tips how to see light indoors

A pocket of light on the subject, contrasting from the dark lounge. Window/door light to the front left. –>>

Photography tips how to see light indoors

If you found this helpful then share it with a friend and come and join the beginners photography tips group on Facebook.

Note: Indoors may require a “faster” lens then you have on your kit camera (one that can open to wider apertures, i.e the f-number can go lower to f1.8 or below, therefore letting more light into your sensor). If you don’t already have one, buy a nifty fifty (50mm lens). They are cheap, effective and excellent for your first lens purchase.