Coping with Indoor Lighting Challenges

One of the biggest advantages of digital capture instead of film when working under unusual lighting conditions is you can and capture color correct images without on-camera filters. The temptation is to set the camera on Auto White Balance and blast away and most of the times that’s a pretty good approach. Other times people say, “I’ll fix it later in Photoshop,” but why waste time when you can capture it correctly in the first place.

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

Auto white balance aka AWB works most of the time especially in venues with different kinds of light sources such as convention centers or athletic arenas. I always do a few test shots first to see if the color is close. If that doesn’t work I try a few more shots using some of the other available white balance options. Be careful of exposure too. Under most mixed-light conditions, I find it’s also necessary to increase exposure compensation to produce a bright-enough image.


Your camera’s Daylight color balance setting is obviously the best choice for shooting outdoors but I also use it when making window light portraits indoors. Under these kinds of lighting conditions, this setting creates a warm, romantic effect that I think enhances the portrait even though it may not be “color correct.”

The camera’s Tungsten setting is useful. When shooting under typical living room 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.

colorbalxnce2The 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.

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.

Most SLRs have a Flash setting but when using either on-camera or studio flash units, I’ve found that this setting may be too warm or too cool, depending on the brand of camera you’re using. I seldom use it, preferring to use the AWB setting for most flash shots but don’t take my word for it. Do a few tests. Shoot a neutral concrete floor with flash using Flash, Daylight, and Auto settings and you’ll be see your particular camera color bias with the Flash setting.

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. T here 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.

Author: Joe Farace

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