Best Camera Settings For Indoor Photography No Flash

Have you ever been told that you need a flash for indoor photography? Those same people are the ones who will rarely ever shoot indoor photography without one. 

Well, don’t worry.  You can take amazing indoor photographs without a flash.

Instead of pushing the idea of more equipment (a flash), this article is going to teach you the best camera settings for indoor photography no flash.  

By the end of this article you’ll be confident enough to take amazing indoor photos anywhere, without a flash.  

So, grab a pen and paper to take notes and let’s get started with exposure!

Exposure meter and its importance

Best Camera Settings For Indoor Photography No Flash
Best Camera Settings For Indoor Photography No Flash

Here is an example of an exposure meter.  It looks like this on most cameras on the market.  Your goal is to get the upside-down triangle on the 0 (zero). At that mark, your highlights and shadows are properly balanced.

That means your photo is properly exposed (according to the camera).  Keep this in mind as you move forward in the article.

Which indoor photography settings are the most important?

Best Camera Settings For Indoor Photography No Flash

Aperture

Best Camera Settings For Indoor Photography No Flash

Shutter Speed

Best Camera Settings For Indoor Photography No Flash

ISO

Seeing as we’re talking about settings, I thought it would be fitting to list those settings of importance.  In no particular order, the most important settings when shooting indoor photography are:

  • Aperture
  • Shutter Speed
  • ISO

Now, if you’re shooting on a DSLR/mirrorless camera and in RAW, you really don’t have to worry about white balance.  But, if you’re shooting in JPG (or on something other than a DSLR/mirrorless), you’ll want to keep an eye on what your white balance is set to.

We will get into white balance in more detail here in a little bit.

I recommend taking notes.  

If something confuses you, write it down and continue reading.  Other parts of the article may answer that question.  If not, please leave the question as a comment below and I would be more than happy to address it!

We’re now going to dive into each of these aspects (briefly) to explain their importance. 

Aperture

Best Camera Settings For Indoor Photography No Flash

Aperture blades on a lens.  Your aperture setting open and closes these blades.

...is the setting that controls how “open” your camera lens is.  The lower the number (represented by f/stops), the wider your aperture is.  The higher the number, the narrower your aperture becomes.  An example would be f/1.8 would be very wide (or open).  F/22 would be very narrow (or closed).

The more open or wide your aperture is, the more light that’s allowed through the lens and ultimately onto your sensor.

Shutter speed

Best Camera Settings For Indoor Photography No Flash

...is how fast the shutter opens to allow light to hit the sensor.  Think of shutters on a house.  You’re opening and closing the shutters to either allow in light or not.  

The speed of the shutter opening and closing factors into how much light hits the sensor.  The faster the shutter is, the less light that hits the sensor.  The longer the shutter is open the more light is able to pass through it.  It directly affects your exposure (how bright or dark your image becomes)

Shutter speed also affects blur in your image.  The faster the shutter speed, the faster the camera is able to pick up motion.  The slower your shutter speed, the more blur your image will have when associated with motion.

ISO

...is a setting that allows your sensor to become more sensitive to light.  The higher the number, the more sensitive it becomes.  As a result, your image becomes brighter.  This is commonly used when there is no other way to get correct exposure.

White balance

Best Camera Settings For Indoor Photography No Flash

is just that.  It’s the setting (in K or kelvin) that determines the temperature of the light within the environment you’re shooting.  The lower the number, the cooler (or more blue/purple) your image will be.  When the value is higher, the warmer (or more yellow/orange) the image becomes.

Again, if you’re shooting in RAW, you do not have to worry about color temperature.  You can change it in lightroom/photoshop.  If you’re shooting in JPG, you will want this setting as close to natural or real as possible.  Auto sometimes doesn't cut it.

Here are color temperatures you should be aware of when shooting indoors.  These mainly have to deal with artificial light.

  • 2500-3500k - most domestic indoor lighting
  • 4000-5000k - fluorescent lights
Best Camera Settings For Indoor Photography No Flash

This example shows how white balance affects your image (same works for indoors as well)

So, generally speaking, you want to float between 2500 and 4000 when dealing with most indoor lighting.  You may run into fluorescents, which comes in right below daylight (5500k).

I adjust white balance while looking at the camera in live view mode.  It’s easiest to match what you’re looking at, to the back of your screen.

So, what are the best settings for indoor photography with no flash?

I am going to give you somewhat of a template to go off of the next time you shoot indoor photography.  Do not worry, it’s not complicated.  You’ll be a master at this in no-time.

So, follow me as I go through each setting in depth so that you better understand why the settings are the way they are.  This will make it better for you to understand.

Aperture is very simple

Best Camera Settings For Indoor Photography No Flash

The aperture on the lens I was using (Sony 70-200mm F/4) was set wide open at f/4.

Start with aperture first.  

Open it as wide as it can go.  

This will allow as much light as possible to hit the sensor.  This will determine what the other two settings should be going forward.

And that’s it for aperture!  

Note: If you find yourself needing to adjust aperture while shooting (for less depth of field for instance), you can definitely do that.  Just keep reading to see the adjustments you’d need to make.

Shutter speed settings

This aspect isn’t complicated either.  You just have to make a couple decisions depending on what you’re photographing.  

Shutter speed affects both exposure and motion blur.

If you find yourself shooting something in motion (and want to capture that motion), you’ll want to have a faster shutter speed than something completely still.

Here are the shutter speeds that never fail me (and there actions)

  • 1/100 - someone talking waving their hands.  If they are more animated, 1/200 works to freeze their arms.
  • 1/500 - freezes most dancing.  Hip hop and club dancing without flash is usually frozen pretty well at this shutter speed.
  • 1/1000 - Is what I use for dancing that involves intricate  clothing (such as dresses).  This will freeze both the dancer and the dancer's dress.  This may be overkill for some dress dances (like a wedding), but for Bachata, it’s needed and has never failed me.  Stage lighting helps a lot at this shutter speed.
Best Camera Settings For Indoor Photography No Flash

This image was nearly frozen at a shutter speed of 1/500

Don't go below 1/100 (if handheld)

Best Camera Settings For Indoor Photography No Flash

This image was taken at a SS of 1/100

You may notice significant motion blur below 1/100 of a second.  This is because your camera is picking up the slight movements of you holding the camera while you’re taking photos.  

A solution to this is to have either a lens with image stabilization (or camera body), or a tripod.  A tripod completely eliminates motion blur created by you.  Image stabilization helps a lot when handheld.

If you have neither - I wouldn’t recommend going below 1/100.  Many of your photos will be unusable in an indoor environment.

It’s recommended to play around with shutter speed to get as close to the correct exposure and capture as much of the action as you can (if any).  

Now, depending on your settings so far (both aperture and shutter speed combined), your ISO settings seal the deal.

ISO settings... Be gentle…

Best Camera Settings For Indoor Photography No Flash

Now that you have your aperture and shutter speed settings actually set, you can now adjust your ISO.

Your image will most likely be underexposed (dark). Increase your ISO until your exposure meter is zeroed out (upside down triangle in the middle).  This will brighten your image to give you proper exposure.

But there is a trade-off for using ISO.  That’s digital noise.

Your camera is producing “artificial light” or making the sensor more sensitive.  The higher your ISO, the more noise you’ll notice in your image.

Generally speaking, I don’t go above 3200 ISO on anything other than a Sony A7 series camera.  There are a few high end Canon cameras that do a great job of reducing noise at high ISO’s, but these cameras are very expensive (1DX mark II and III).

This image was taken at f/4, 1/200, ISO @ 320

This image was taken @ 3200 ISO on a Sony A7iii

The Sony A7iii does an amazing job of noise reduction.  I have taken photos at 6400 ISO with correctable noise.

The solution to a lot of noise in your image is either use less ISO, or send it through photoshop or lightroom.  Using the noise reduction slider is great - but you will lose a lot of texture and detail.  It essentially “smooths” your image out (great for skin though!)

Get your image as close to correctly exposed as you can with ISO.  If it exceeds 3200, back it back down to 3200 and you can adjust the exposure later in post production.  It’s better to be underexposed than have to worry about all of the digital noise later on.  Trust me.

This image was taken at f/4, 1/250, ISO @ 400

So, let’s take it step-by-step

Now that we’ve gone over the three aspects that allow you to take great indoor photos without a flash…  I thought it would be good to list the “steps” to ensure you’re able to achieve those amazing shots every time.

  • Step 1: Open your aperture all the way!  This could be f/1.8, f/2.8 or even f/3.5 (some variable zoom kit lenses).  Whatever the lowest f stop is, set it to that.
  • Step 2: Determine your shutter speed.  If you’re shooting slow moving objects or people, start at 1/100 and adjust from there.  If you’re shooting dancers/performers, start at 1/500 and work from there.  Very fast moving objects, start at 1/500 and increase if you need to.  Try to not go below 1/100 if you’re shooting handheld.
  • Step 3: Increase ISO to get your exposure correct!  If it exceeds 3200, set it back to 3200 and adjust exposure in post.

That’s it!  Let’s wrap it all up!

This image was taken at f/4, 1/200, ISO @ 320

You’ve been educated!

As stated in the intro, as you can tell, there isn’t a “perfect” setting for everything.  You have to adjust your camera depending on the conditions and your subject.  But that’s the fun in it all, learning! I hope I answered the question what is the best camera settings for indoor photography no flash.

Believe me, if I can do this, there is no reason you can’t.  It takes a little practice.  But after doing it for a little, it becomes second nature.  I’m serious. Don’t give up, you’ve got this!

Thank you all so much for reading!  It means so much.  Let me know in the comments what you thought and if there was anything I needed to make clearer for you!  I always get back in a timely manner!

Until next time, keep shooting and creating!!

Jeff

I have been taking photos and film since I was a child. Now that I'm in my mid 30's, I want to share with the world what I have learned over the years. I attempt to live every day to the fullest and share that with you through my blog. I am an electrician by trade and photo and video lie within the "hobby" aspect of my life at the moment. It's what I'm truly passionate about.
Back To Top