Do you want to know the absolute best camera settings for indoor photography? Do you want to take stunning indoor photos that take your breath away?
You’ve come to the right place.
Because in this article, I’m going to tell you everything you need to know about camera settings and indoor photography, including:
The best aperture for indoor photography.
How to choose the perfect indoor photography shutter speed.
Whether or not to boost your ISO when shooting indoors.
So, if you want to take your indoor photos to the next level, let’s begin…
Start By Choosing the Right Light
What’s the biggest reason people struggle with indoor photography?
If you try to shoot without carefully selecting your settings, you’ll end up with images that are either blurry, dark, or noisy (and sometimes a combination of all three!).
But here’s the thing:
Selecting your settings can be a lot easier…
…if you start by choosing the right light.
What do I mean by this?
First, ask yourself:
What types of illumination exist where I’m shooting?
If there are any powerful artificial lights nearby, I recommend positioning your subject nearby (this can make your images look far better, in the end!)
Alternatively, if there is any nice natural light streaming through a window, I recommend bringing your subject over and letting the light fall into the frame.
By the way, if you don’t have any nice lighting where you’re shooting, you can always bring in one or two speedlights. These will help boost the light intensity by a huge amount, and give you plenty of light to work with!
Now let’s take a look at the settings you’ll want to choose for indoor photos:
1. Use a Wide Aperture to Let in as Much Light as Possible
Even if you’re working with strong window light or powerful artificial lights, you’ll often find yourself struggling to create bright, well-lit images.
This is because indoor light is inherently weaker compared to outdoor light.
So what do you do?
You compensate–by widening your aperture to let as much light hit your camera sensor as possible.
See, your aperture is basically a hole in your lens. As it gets wider, it lets in more light, and gives you correspondingly brighter images.
If you haven’t worked with aperture previously, know that it’s represented in terms of f-stops, like this:
f/2.8, f/4, f/5.6, f/8, etc.
The smaller the f-number, the wider the aperture, and the brighter your photos will appear (all else being equal).
So when you’re doing indoor photography, I recommend starting with the widest aperture your lens offers. This is usually in the area of f/2.8 to f/5.6, but some lenses will let you widen the aperture further (down to f/1.8, f/1.4, and beyond).
That way, you’ll be able to get plenty of light–and your images will look strong and bright.
One thing to bear in mind is that a wide aperture will affect your photos in one other way:
You’ll end up with less of the shot in focus.
In other words, you’ll get a shot like this:
But such an effect can be pleasing, plus it’s often a necessary consequence of shooting in low light!
2. Select a Slower Shutter Speed (But Fast Enough to Avoid Blur)
As I mentioned above, indoor photography involves letting in as much light as possible.
And one of the easiest ways to do that…
…is by the lengthening the shutter speed.
You see, a shutter speed of 1s exposes the camera sensor to the light for far longer than a shutter speed of 1/1000s.
So a 1s shutter speed will give you a much brighter photo than a 1/1000s shutter speed.
In fact, when photographers shoot in near-darkness at night, they’ll often use shutter speeds of minutes, or even hours, to achieve a bright image.
Now, one way to deal with the need for slower shutter speeds is to just pick the longest shutter speed your camera allows, and select all your other settings based on that.
But such a method comes with a big drawback:
The slower your shutter speed, the greater the chance of introducing blur into your image.
If your camera shakes while the sensor is still exposing the image, you’re going to have a blurry, unpleasant, ruined image.
So what do you do?
You compromise. Instead of selecting the slowest shutter speed your camera allows, you pick a relatively slow shutter speed–but one that still keeps your images sharp.
This is often in the area of 1/60s or 1/80s, though it’s different in different situations–depending on how steady your hands are, how long your lens is, and how windy the environment is, etc.
Note that an easy way to find a starting point is to use the reciprocal rule:
Consider the focal length of your lens, and take the reciprocal.
That is, if your lens is 50mm, you can safely shoot down to 1/50s.
And if your lens is 100mm, you can safely shoot down to 1/100s.
This isn’t a hard and fast rule, but it is a good guideline, and a great way to determine a starting point.
From there, you can experiment with slightly higher and lower shutter speeds, until you find an option that works for you.
Note that you’ll want to think about keeping your camera steady in additional ways, such as stabilizing your body against a wall, using a tripod, or turning on lens (or camera) image stabilization.
That way, you can get a bright image–but one that’s also sufficiently sharp!
3. Choose the Highest ISO You Can Get Away With
Your camera’s ISO is a way of boosting the brightness of your images–while leaving your shutter speed and aperture constant.
However, while a higher ISO will get you a brighter shot, it’ll also result in a lot of unpleasant noise.
So here’s the question:
How do you choose the best ISO, the one that compensates for the darkness of the indoor environment, but that keeps noise levels to an acceptable level?
While there’s no single answer to this question, here’s a great way of determining optimal ISO settings for indoor photography:
First, test your camera at all ISOs.
Then look at the images on your computer, making sure to zoom in to 100%.
Identify the highest ISO value you would be willing to tolerate.
And then, whenever you shoot indoors, use that ISO.
Note that you won’t always need a high ISO.
If you have a lot of window light, or you’re working with a flash, you may be perfectly happy with a low, sub-800 ISO.
But if light is limited, you’ll want to push your ISO as high as you feel comfortable with, and then stop.
Because after that point, it’s not worth going higher. Better to make adjustments to your shutter speed and risk a blurry image than push past your unacceptable ISO value.
4. Try Using Manual Focus to Get Perfectly Sharp Shots
There’s one more key indoor photography setting you’ll want to think about:
Because here’s the thing:
These days, basically all cameras and lenses offer good autofocusing capabilities. You point your camera, you press the shutter button, and the focus locks on your subject for a sharp image.
As the light gets lower, autofocus capabilities decline. Cameras struggle a lot more to nail focus, and this can result in endless hunting for the point of focus, or focus that misses completely.
That’s where manual focusing comes in.
Manual focusing involves little, if any, electronics. Instead, you just turn the ring on your lens–and the plane of focus will shift.
While mastering manual focus can take a bit of practice, if you’re willing to put in the work, it’ll quickly become second nature to you.
And so you’ll never struggle to get perfectly focused images when shooting indoors, not even if the light is extremely dim.
The Best Settings for Indoor Photography: Conclusion
Capturing gorgeous indoor photos may seem tricky, but it doesn’t have to be.
And now that you’ve read this article, you know all about the best aperture, shutter speed, ISO, and focusing mode you need for amazing indoor images.
So make sure you put this advice to use–and get some stunning shots!
For indoor photography, you’re going to want to let as much light into your camera as possible. This means using a wide aperture, a relatively slow shutter speed, and the highest ISO you can afford.
When doing indoor photography, you’re often light-limited. So you should widen your aperture as much as possible, in order to create a bright, powerful exposure. I recommend using an aperture of f/2.8 or f/4, unless you’re working with a tripod (in which case you can lower the shutter speed and keep the aperture at f/8 or so).
That depends. If you’re handholding your camera, then you’re going to want a shutter speed that ensures sharp photos, but doesn’t go any higher than necessary. This is often around 1/125s, though it changes based on your focal length (here, the reciprocal rule is a helpful guideline). If you’re using a tripod, then you’re free to drop this further, but be sure that your subject isn’t moving!
I recommend selecting the highest ISO that you can get away with–that is, the ISO that gives you some noise, but noise that is acceptable. This depends on your camera, but is often in the area of ISO 1600-ISO 3200. Note also that different photographers have different levels of tolerance for noise, and this can depend on the genre of photography, as well. So acceptable noise levels depend on personal preference.
Jaymes Dempsey is a professional macro and nature photographer from Ann Arbor, Michigan; his work is published across the web, from Digital Photography School to PetaPixel.