How to Take Indoor Portraits

I would like to share with you some valuable keys to taking better indoor portraits and still life photographs. These are insider secrets I’ve learned over the past 33 years as an avid photographer. They aren’t something I learned in a class or studied at college. Rather, they are things that I’ve picked up along the way that have helped make me the successful photographer that I am today.


If you’re doing a portrait of a person or a still life of an object, always begin by paying attention to the background. What’s in the background? What is behind the subject? Ask yourself if the background is distracting for any reason. What is the lighting in the background like? Is it bright glaring light from the reflection of a car window, or is it a bright sky with too much light, or is it a bunch of junk in someone’s garage or living room?


You have to learn to pay attention to what’s behind your subject because whatever it is, it’s going to be in your photograph, and there’s a high likelihood that it will be distracting. Once you observe the background, you must decide if it’s a distraction or not. If it is, then you need to either move your subject or you need to move and shoot the subject from a different angle. Do whatever you need to do to get rid of a distracting background. If you’re shooting a close up of a flower, you may need to bend an adjacent flower out of the way or break it off completely so that it’s not in the way. In summary, pay close attention to the background, and make sure that it is not distracting. This one simple key will save you from wrecking many good photographs.


The most important element in your photograph is the lighting. Ask yourself what the light is doing as you look through your viewfinder. Look for the highlights and the shadows and the midtones. Pretend you’re color blind and try to see everything through the tonal composition of black and white rather than color. Colors are deceiving. They capture your attention with their beauty, but they disguise what the light is doing in terms of highlights and shadows. Don’t let this happen to you. Learn to look past the colors and try to see the black and white and grey tones that they represent and are reflecting to your lens. A great photograph will have a broad spectrum of tones from very dark to very light, from true black to variations of gray to true white. The more variation of tones you are able to capture in the image, the better the lighting and contrast will be in the photograph. This is extremely important in black and white photography. It is equally important in color photography, but it’s easier for people to get away with less variation of tones because most viewers are distracted by the colors.

Window Light

One of the best kinds of light to use in portrait and still life photography is soft diffused window light. Let’s say you want to take a photograph of your grandson. Find a room in the house that has natural diffused light coming in through the window. Don’t use a room that has direct light coming through the window because that is too bright/strong. Instead, look for a window where indirect light comes in and diffuses throughout the room. That’s the best light to use for a portrait or a still life.



Your best friend should always be your tripod. Always take it with you wherever you go because you never know when you’re going to need it. In the above scenario with your grandson, sit him near the window on a chair where he’s comfortable and where he can sit still. Then set up your tripod, attach your camera, and check on the lighting in the room and on the subject’s face. Use your built-in light meter to measure the amount of light on the grandson’s face, and then adjust your aperture and shutter speed correctly. Remember to make sure there’s no distractions in the background. If you need to, hang a big blanket or sheet behind him to give you a neutral solid background that is not distracting and will actually enhance the subject.

I forgot to mention that the reason you’re going to need a tripod is that the light will be low in the room. Using a tripod keeps you from shaking the camera and blurring the image. You will also need to make sure that your camera does not use the built-in flash to try to make up for the low light conditions. You may have to disable the flash so that you can take the photo without it. One more point, instruct your subject not to move when you take the photograph; otherwise, the image will be blurred.

Depth of Field

Learn how to use your aperture and shutter speed in proper conjunction in order to control your “depth of field.” You may be asking, “What in the world is depth of field?” Depth of field is simply how much of the depth of the photograph is in focus and how much of it is out of focus and blurred. In other words, depth of field is the zone of acceptably sharp focus surrounding the area actually focused on. Generally, when you are taking portraits or still life photographs, you want the background out of focus or blurred to some degree in order to enhance the sharp focus of the subject. Here’s what you will want to do to achieve this result. Begin by focusing on the eyes of the subject, in this case, the grandson’s eyes. This is the most important part of a person’s face that needs to be in sharp focus.

Then decide how much of the subject’s head you want in focus. If you want to have the whole head in focus, then you should probably choose a middle aperture setting of around 5.6 or 8. If you decide you only want his eyes in focus, then you would create a narrow depth of field by using a lower f-stop of 2.8. On the other hand, if you wanted his whole head in focus and the piano behind him in focus, you would need to create a deep depth of field by using a high f-stop of 16 or 22.


In conclusion, there are several keys to taking high-quality indoor portraits and still lifes. Remember to always check the background and make sure it’s not distracting. Then study the available light that you plan on using and try to see the image through black and white tones, highlights, and shadows. Find a room in the house or in the basement where there is soft, diffused window light to use to light your subject’s face. Make sure to always use a tripod so that you can set the shutter speed at the correct slow speed to capture the available low light. Using a tripod will keep you from shaking the camera and blurring the image. And finally, learn how to use your aperture and shutter speed in proper conjunction to control your depth of field to get everything you want in focus and everything else out of focus. Take a lot of shots and have fun with various poses.

About the Author:
Josiah Friberg has studied health & nutrition for 25 years. He has used this research to create a healthy lifestyle and optimum diet for himself, his family, and many others. His nickname is, “The Naked Nutrition Knight,” because he believes strongly in whole food nutrition. Visit his daily blog at: Josiah is also an avid photographer and a member of the Blue Ridge Photographic Society North Carolina. Visit his inspirational photography gallery at: He lives in the foothills of the scenic Blue Ridge mountains of North Carolina with his family.

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2 responses to “How to Take Indoor Portraits”

  1. Idan Presser says:

    I’m a long time reader, just wanted to let you guys know this piece is amazing, truly insperational, and fun to read…
    thank you!

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