Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could be blessed with ideal lighting conditions during every indoor photoshoot? If only this was possible! Well, the good news is, if it's gloomy outside, you can still fake beautiful lighting indoors!
Shoot closest to window light
Shooting nearest a window is one of the best sources of natural light (next to being outside, of course!). When you work with natural light, depending on the time of day, shadows are less harsh and noticeable in photographs. If possible, place your subject close to the window, keeping in mind, where you place the subject will affect the image dramatically.
If you shoot closer to the window, the light will be softer and brighter on your subject. And if you shoot further away, it makes sense that there will be less light on your subject, and harder to work with.
For example, as you can see in the following images, I used my bed and some props for a flat-lay photograph. Our bedroom window is only two feet away from this set up, and so it was much easier to work with natural light. I captured this image at around 6pm, when it was starting to get darker outside, so I had to compensate for the dull light by bumping up exposure, shutter speed, or adjusting the ISO. Though - be aware the higher the ISO, the grainier the photo will be.
You can see that using natural light has significantly reduced any harsh shadows, and creates a 'softer' look for what I wanted to achieve. I always prefer using natural light over external flash, whenever possible - though I know realistically weather can sometimes diminish good lighting.
Shoot during the best time for light
Ideally, shooting 6-11am and 4-7pm (and sometimes even until almost nightfall) creates the best natural light. However, if you're shooting during the harshest time of the day (12-3pm), you can still fake soft lighting indoors. *Tip: I've used an old white bed sheet and hung it up on our bare window to diffuse the harsh shadows and light on my subject. It's a cheeky idea but it actually works brilliantly.
Fake good lighting
During my mini photoshoot with props, the light became dull very quickly and it started to rain outside. This could be a pickle but if you have the right lighting equipment, you can actually fake good light. It will take some practice and maneuvering to replicate soft lighting. However, it doesn't mean the lighting has to be perfect. You may find there will still be some shadows, as it isn't the same effect as using natural light. The best advice I can give is to work with what you have.
Investing in a good external flash has literally brought my photographs to life when I've had no natural light to work with. Please note, that an external flash is NOT the awful pop-up flash that is already apart of your camera. Pop-up flash from your camera causes that awful red-eye and who wants to be blinded by harsh light anyway? An external flash is an ingenious device that significantly enhances your photograph, creating a cleaner look and better illumination to subjects even if they're far away. External flash also allows you more control over lighting, which brings me to my next point.
Bounce your external flash
Avoid aiming the flash directly at your subject, instead, aim the flash slightly behind you, or to the side. You can aim the flash directly upwards but if you're in a smaller room, it will create unflattering shadows on your subject. *Tip: Before beginning the photoshoot, tell the model to relax while you take a few test photographs to adjust lighting/external flash and camera settings. Some of the best photos come from unposed photos!
Soften lighting using a diffuser. Yes, a diffuser can radically improve your photographs. It helps scatter the light more evenly on your subject, thus far more flattering on faces. You can purchase inexpensive plastic diffusers (semi opaque) online, or, if you're ready for more professional equipment, you could invest in a soft box (which attaches on top of your external flash).
Check your camera settings
You may find you need to take a few practice photographs to get adjust your camera settings accordingly. For example, for the photo below, this was taken with my external flash (Canon Speedlite 430EXII) using my 50mm lens. My settings were f/4, 1/200, ISO800, and used photoshop to create softer shadows. It's by no means perfect, as I always prefer natural light, but the photograph came out cleaner and brighter which I wouldn't be able to achieve low natural lighting.
Reflectors are always a good idea
You can purchase different sized reflectors online, or from your nearest camera store. A decent reflector should have one white side, and a silver or gold colour on the other side. However, reflectors do come in many colours, even purple, green, translucent, and black - which blocks harsh light. I'm lucky I have my partner in crime to help assist with reflectors, but you can get reflectors that are long enough to lean against your body, and reflects enough light onto your subject. Tip* If there are still some harsh shadows on your subject's face, place the reflector underneath them, angled upwards to reduce shadows.
Invest in a decent tripod
Seriously, I could not photograph without one, especially indoors! Usually I'm shooting using a lower shutter speed (1/200 and below), to compensate for the lack of light. Therefore, the lower your shutter speed, the more likely your photo may blur a little, even with your lens stabilizer turned on. This is where the tripod comes in so handy. You don't have to worry about accidentally moving, you can let your tripod do the hard work, and you can focus on creating beautiful photographs! *Tip: If you don't have access to a tripod, there are plenty of cheeky tripod alternatives! During shoots, I've stabilized my camera using my knee, a post, on furniture, etc. I've also crouched, and laid down on the floor, which adds great perspective and allows you to balance your camera without shaking. You can also wrap your camera strap firmly around your wrist to gain more control.
Avoid overhead lighting
Overhead lighting literally means that, using your bedroom light as a means to fix the bad lighting on your subject. As you can see in the below photograph, I used my overhead light to show you how uneven and unnatural the lighting is. On the left side of the photograph, it's darker and more yellow (the same warm tone as my globe), and on the right it's softer where the natural light is coming through the window. There are harsh shadows on the actual flowers, and under the glasses. Basically, overhead lighting is rarely a good idea. It creates even more unflattering, uneven lighting on your subject.
Soft natural light whenever you can
As much as I love my external flash, I find natural light is always my go-to whenever I can. Personally I save a lot of time when just using my window light. For example, I placed these vintage pink roses (image below) in a small vase, on top of the window ledge, in the evening (just before nightfall). I had a 45 minute window (no pun intended) to capture close-ups and macro photographs using my Sigma macro lens. With the subject between the window and I, the natural light created a lovely soft look for what I wanted to achieve.
What camera settings should I use?
There's really no 'set' camera setting I can tell you, but what I can say, is that you'll need to adjust your camera setting according to how much light you already have in the room, and if your subject will be moving. If your subject is still-life, you can use a shutter speed lower than 1/200, but if you're working with a model, you'll have to change the shutter speed a little higher or lower. For close ups, such as these pretty roses, I also changed my aperture to f/4 which creates a shallow depth of field, and brighter exposure. In fact, most of my photographs (even portraits) are taken using a low aperture - that's a personal choice though. I can only recommend that you experiment to find a look that suits your photograph!