Coping with Indoor Lighting Challenges

Today’s Post by Joe Farace

One advantage that digital capture has over film is that when working under unusual lighting conditions you being able shoot color correct images without the use of on-camera filters. You can set the camera on Auto White Balance and most times that’s better than saying, “I’ll fix it later in Photoshop.”

Most digital SLRs offer different white balance options including Auto, Daylight, Cloudy; Incandescent; Fluorescent; Flash and Custom. Here’s a few suggestions.

How I made this shot: Auto white balance works most of the time even in venues with different kinds of light sources such as convention centers, like the Las Vegas Convention Center where I photographed this Saleen S7. Camera used was an EOS 5D Mark I with EF28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM lens (at 35mm) with an exposure of 1/60 sec at f/5.6 and ISO 800.

Typically, I’ll do a few test shots using AWB first to see if the color is close. If that doesn’t work I try a few more shots using one of the other white balance options. Be careful of exposure too. Tip: Under most mixed-light conditions, I also find it’s also necessary to increase exposure compensation to produce a bright-enough image.

When shooting outdoors, the Daylight color balance setting is obviously the best choice but I also use it when making window light portraits indoors. Under these kinds of lighting conditions, this setting creates a warm effect that, I think, enhances the portrait even though it may not be “color correct.” The Cloudy color balance setting works great to warm up photographs made on cloudy or overcast days but can also be used during twilight or evening to keep your images from being too cool or blue. Some cameras offer a Shade setting that’s similar to Cloudy but not as intense.

How I made this shot: At the SEMA show, in the Las Vegas Convention center. Camera used was an EOS Rebel XS with EF-S18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS lens (at 55mm) with an exposure of 1/80 sec at f/6.3 and ISO 800. Color balance setting was AWB.

The camera’s Tungsten setting is useful. When shooting under typical incandescent lamps you may want to shoot a few test shots to see if you have to increase exposure but the color balance should be right on. You can also use it outdoors with a filtered flash to create a special effect. I’ve found Fluorescent is a good place to start when an area is lit with fluorescent tubes but I seldom use this setting since few places are totally lit by fluorescent lights.

Then there’s Custom mode, which some users might think is difficult to use, but it’s not. Under tricky lighting conditions all you need to do is use make an exposure of something that’s white. The camera will store that image and use it to color correct your subsequent images. There are too many interpretations of white paint out there, so I bring my own. The flip side of the Kodak Gray Card is white and makes an ideal companion for the photographer interested in making color correct images, saving lots of time that would be spend later tweaking image files.


Ilight.bookf you enjoyed today’s blog post and would like to treat Joe to a cup of Earl Grey tea ($2.50), click here.

Along with photographer Barry Staver, Joe is co-author of Better Available Light Digital Photograph that’s now out-of-print but new copies are available from Amazon for $21.88 with used copies selling for four bucks. For some reason, the Kindle price is really high.