Taking a picture of a room interior with the view outside

Today we will talk about making a picture that shows both the inside of a room and the view trough the window – and we’ll do it when the view outside is in direct mid day sun.

Let’s begin with two test shots just to show the problem:

For the first shot I’ve used spot metering to expose for the outside, it is very bright outside and I wanted to add a flash later so I’ve set ISO to 100 (the lowest value on my camera) and the shutter speed to 1/200 – the camera’s max sync speed (the “max sync speed” is the highest shutter speed you can use with a flash), I’ve let the camera select the aperture and the camera selected F/11 and I’ve got this:

The outside is a little bit under exposed because all the white in the picture (but not by much) and the inside is completely dark.

For the next shot I’ve metered for the inside, I’ve let the camera do all the work by spot metering on somewhere in the room that is a little farther than the window and the camera selected f/5 at 1/3 of a second (ISO is still 100) – this got me this picture:

This picture is a little bit over exposed and the colors are washed up (the washed up colors are probably caused by lens flair from the bright light outside).

What those picture show us is that the difference in brightness between the inside and the outside is way to big to capture in a single image.

Now, since the whole post is about capturing both in a single image it’s pretty obvious I’m going to do something to fix the problem – and that something is to increase the brightness of the room to match the outside.

I’ve connected my cheap YN465 external flash to the camera (the built in popup flash doesn’t have the power for this) and pointed it directly up into the ceiling so the reflected light will illuminate the room evenly.

I’ve put the camera in manual mode and set it to expose correctly for the outside, then I’ve taken a few test shots at different flash power settings until I’ve got the inside brightness up to where I want it to be.

For this picture I’ve set the flash on full power and opened up the aperture a bit to f/7.1 to get a bit more light both for the inside and the outside.

Note that the outside is still much brighter – this is because I didn’t want to make the inside and outside the same brightness, I don’t want to hide the fact that it’s eye-hurting bright outside and a little dark inside – I just want to get them to the point I can capture both in the same picture (if I did get the inside and outside to be at the same brightness it wouldn’t look natural).

Now that we got the camera and flash settings dialed in we can bring in our model and start taking pictures:

If we try to take that picture without the flash we will get a silhouette – and that’s the topic for next week.

When use your camera’s built in flash (flash basics 2)

The first post in the flash basics series was when not to use flash, as I said in that post I love flash photography (and loving it more every day) but the camera’s built in tiny flash is very limited and we have to work within it’s limitations.

Basically there are only 4 good reasons to use your camera’s built in flash (that I know of):

Fill Flash

Surprisingly the best time to use on-camera flash is when there’s plenty of light, to demonstrate this I’ve convinced a garden gnome to pose for me in the bright mid-day  summer (well, spring) sun, to help with this bright eye-hurting sum I’ve let the gnome use a hat.

As you can see the gnome’s face is in the shadow (in real life the gnome is quite bright) especially you can see dark shadows below the eyes – sometimes those are lovingly referred to “raccoon eyes” – but if we add a little flash:

The shadows on the face aren’t gone (we don’t want them gone) but they are much lighter and not nearly as bad.

To use fill flash on a Canon DSLR just use the Av mode and pop open the flash.

On a Nikon DSLRs it’s a bit more complicated – half press the shutter in your favorite shooting mode and look at the settings the camera selected (aperture, shutter speed and ISO), now switch to manual mode and set the same values, pop up the flash and you’re ready.

On some compacts you have to switch to a special fill flash mode or enable fill flash in the menu, sometimes you will also want to lower the flash power when used as fill, the setting for flash power is usually called “flash exposure compensation”.

When it’s the only way to get the shot

Basically sometimes its better to take a bad picture than no picture at all – but this is not an excuse to use flash when it’s ineffective, only use flash when:

  • The subject is close – your flash maximum range 3-5 meters (approximately 10-15 feet) depending on your camera, and this is for cameras with “real” flashes, if you are using a cell phone with a LED flash the range is even shorter, anything farther than that is just not lit by the flash.

    If you are at a show or a sporting event the action is way too far away the light from you small flash does not reach the stage at all.

  • Long exposure is out of the question – if the subject isn’t moving and you have a few seconds to set up you can still use the ambient light – just switch your camera to “no flash” mode and put it on something steady (or at least lean against something steady) so it doesn’t move.

    This won’t work if it’s completely dark (extremely rare those days) or if the ambient light has a really bad color cast (unfortunately a lot of street lights are like that)

Triggering off camera flash(s)

This is a good reason to use on-camera flash – but a bit too advanced for the second post in the flash basics series, maybe we’ll talk about it in a much later post.

Getting creative

Photography is an art – and there are techniques that use the built in flash to get a specific effect (and not every effect has to make people look good) – if you have a creative technique to use the camera’s built in flash please share in the comments.

When not to use flash (flash basics 1)

This is the first post in a long series about flash photography, the series is starting with a few posts about how to use the camera’s built in flash and will continue to external flashes both on and off camera, I will publish the flash posts every few weeks between other topics because I don’t want to write just about flash for months.

I really like to use flash in my photos, it makes life easier and can give wonderful results with just a little bit of expertise and just a little bit of equipment – but flash is not useful in every situation, there are a few areas a flash is ineffective or downright harmful – so I’m starting this series with some situations you should never use flash in.

When your subject is not very close

This is probably the most common flash mistake people make,

Every flash has a maximum range, those ranges (especially for the camera’s built in flash) are very short, anything outside that range is not illuminated by the flash at all – here is a picture of my point and shoot camera firing the flash in the dark:

It’s easy to see that the light is very bright on the right close to the camera but drops off very fast and by the time we get to the left side of the image it’s very dim.

For that camera, according to the manual, the flash is only effective up to 3 meter (9.8 feet) so anything farther is effectively in complete darkness. My DSLR has a more powerful flash that can reach up to 5 meters (16.4 feet), still not much.

This means that if your subject is out of the flash’s range it’s not illuminated by the flash at all – in the past this would have resulted in a black frame but the modern camera compensate by taking the exact same picture you would have gotten with the flash completely off (except it fires your flash in full power and drains the batteries in the process).

If you are photographing a sporting event or a show and you are not in the first row all your flash is doing is bothering the other viewers and draining your batteries – turn it off.

If you are photographing landscape than this is silly, the mountain in the distance is so outside the flash’s range that all it’s doing is draining your batteries and making you look silly – turn it off.

Photographing through glass, fences,  nets, cages, etc.

Any time that you have something between you and the subject there is a chance that something will reflect the flash, let’s show an example:

I’ve positioned my lovely point and shoot on a tripod behind some bars, the camera lens is positioned between two bars and the camera is focused on a small tree in the distance.

And here is a picture without flash, the white thing on the right is a piece of furniture that is standing right next to the tree, on the left side you can see a dark out of focus part of one of the bars.

Turn on the flash and we get this:

First, the dark, out of focus, barely noticeable bar became the brightest and most prominent item in the photo – and as if this isn’t bad enough the light reflected of it totally washes out all the colors in the picture.

Now, let’s close the glass window and take a shoot trough the glass:

Yes, what you see it the light from the flash reflected in the window, everything else is gone.

Anything that is remotely reflective

For your enjoyment, from left to right, an iPhone, a closed laptop and a cake in the oven – all with a big ugly bright burst of light reflecting from the flash:

Another painful effect that you can’t see at this small size is that the light is reflected by every scratch, dirt or fingerprint on the reflective surface – so whatever you are photographing should be completely and totally clean.

This also applies to photographing people who wear glasses – there will be a whole post on photographing people with glasses in the future.


Direct flash, especially at close range, is a very unflattering light – it makes the face look flat and highlights every little bit of sweat, also, often in the dark the camera will use too much flash and make the skin look very white, sometime even bright.

And let’s not get started about red eye.

No example pictures here – I don’t want to make people who let me use their pictures look bad on my blog.

So, we shouldn’t use flash?

Flash is wonderful, I love flash (really) – but like any tool it has it’s limitations.

And of course, there are things we can do to overcome those limitations:

To increase the flash range you need… a more powerful flash – but every flash has a range (even the big studio ones) and if your subject is out of range turn the flash off.

To minimize reflections you need to find an angle that reflects the flash’s light away from your camera, there will be a whole post about it soon.

And just to finish on a more positive note I’ll tell you the next flash post will be about things you can do with your camera’s built in flash.