We had the pleasure of talking to Denise Love from 2 Lil Owls and we asked her all the questions we could think of about her camera, equipment and setup to find out how she takes the beautiful pictures you can see across this article. If you are familiar with Denise and her amazing work, you will know that Denise is one of our most popular texture designers, and she has years of experience in indoor photography.
Denise uses the photos she takes to create lovely textures, you can add to your photos or any other projects you might be working on. So we are delighted to share all of her knowledge with you.
We asked Denise to list everything that she could think of, no matter how small it was, so this is a very comprehensive breakdown. Let’s get started.
1. What is you preferred studio set-up?
I shoot at a fun little table in the window because I like to shoot for natural light and I use very little studio lighting, even though I have all the different types of studio lights you can probably get, I don’t use them as much, as I like natural light. The sun coming in the window is all encompassing and it makes for the prettiest light on the photo, whereas studio lights look more artificial to me and not as pretty. I tend to wait until it’s a sunny day and I set up right here in the window. And if there is too much light coming in I put in a diffuser.
What type of camera do you use?
I have a couple of cameras that I started with. I have a consumer grade camera which is a Canon Rebel, and then I upgraded after I figured out that you couldn’t take very nice low light photos without it being super grainy. My upgrade was a semi-pro camera; a Canon 7D. I really liked that camera, it was great and I would still be shooting with it today, but that camera as well as the consumer grade were both crop frame cameras, so the sensors were a little smaller.
Then I found a very good deal on some new used equipment and I upgraded again, this time to a full frame Pro camera; the Canon 5D Mark IV. This is the latest and greatest, and I think that might be the last version they’re even building, because they’re transitioning into focusing on mirrorless cameras. This camera came with a Canon L grade lens which is a pro lens, the 24 to 70 2.8 lens.
My advice to anyone starting up and who is on a budget, if you are looking to buy a professional camera, buy used equipment instead of the latest updates on a camera, as there are not many differences between the models and this way you can save thousands of dollars. I’ve not yet had a camera that failed, as they usually have hundreds of thousands of clicks and they last for a very long time.
What type of camera lenses do you prefer?
I like to play with art lenses, vintage lenses and specialty lenses, rather than the conventional lenses, because I like to get as creative with the camera as I can.
But most recently I have started using the Great Big L Lens that I had for a while. I prefer this lens now as I am doing more workshops and it allows me to set-up fast and take the photos really quickly and move on to editing, whereas the artistic lenses are manual and the process takes much longer.
My advice is instead of buying a camera kit with two lenses, which might seem like a good idea, don’t because you’ll end up not using them due to some of the limitations on the aperture settings. The aperture is going to change and be a variable aperture, so it starts at like 5 or 5.6 but as you zoom out it it goes up to a higher number, and I like to shoot mostly at 1.8 to 2.5, or 4 so I like to be under those limitations that those cheaper lenses kind of force on you.
I’d buy a camera body that you like, say a really nice used camera, if you can afford the 5D Mark III for instance, buy that body and then buy one lens the 50 millimeter. I like the 50mm 1.4, that is the more expensive 50mm lens, compared to the Nifty 50, which is a 1.8 aperture lens but if I’m shooting everything at F4. The main difference between these lenses is the price tag, so get the one you feel is in your budget.
What is the best advice you can give us for indoor photography?
I like getting creative with the camera, as I don’t want to spend too much time editing the photos in Photoshop, so I would rather spend all the time upfront, getting the right set-up, the camera ready and maybe getting a tripod out.
I do a lot of tethering now, which really adds to your setup time, but it cuts the time of your shooting, because you can get really exact on where everything needs to go and see it visually bigger, snap the photo and you are done, whereas before I’d take a thousand photos and hope that they were somewhere in focus and composed; hoping there was something I could work with.
Lensbaby Lenses & Vintage Lenses
I like the way that the Vintage Helios 44-2 gives you pretty swirl in the background and gives you different bokeh.
The Lensbaby Velvet lens is my very favorite lens, it practically lives on my camera when this other one’s not on it. This lens gives that same beautiful velvety blur that the vintage Meyer Optic lens gives you, and the Lensbaby Twist gives you that same wonderful twisty look that the Vintage Helios gives you, so you can still get some of these old lens effects in newer lenses.
Check out the Lensbaby website to find your new favourite vintage lenses.
M42 Mount for Vintage Lenses
This is the M42 Mount which is a little converter ring that you can get from Amazon and you’ll see it has the details of the mount that this works with. Mine works with m42 to EOS and the EOS is my Canon Mount. You screw the mount on the lens, and then the lens will fit your modern camera.
Downside of Lensbaby is they don’t talk to the camera, so the aperture needs to be set manually and you have to manually focus. There is definitely a learning curve in working with manual lenses, and the best advice is to work on a tripod or do tethering to avoid getting blurred photos.
What’s the best camera and lens for a beginner?
When you’re getting started my advice is to pick just a camera body and a 50 millimeter lens and that’s what you need to shoot with until you get proficient with your camera. If you’re on a crop frame camera a 50 millimeter lens is really like 80 or so, because there’s a crop factor so it’s visually looks like you’re closer than you really are, which is great for portraiture as well as landscape.
What other equipment is essential to beginners?
Very important is a tripod. I have the MeFOTO Globetrotter tripod and this is an aluminum tripod, and it’s nice and lightweight and easy to carry around.
It comes with a ball head that is strong enough and it holds up my big heavy lens and camera, and doesn’t start to move around. I’ve had this tripod for probably 10 years and I still use it every day, it’s been like my workhorse tripod.
There are also carbon fiber tripods that are very lightweight but more expensive than the aluminum tripods; I would go for a good quality aluminum tripod.
“The older you get or the longer you do this the smarter you start to work”
I also have a tripod that has an arm that has a boom arm and comes out at a 90 degree angle, which is really great when you want to shoot down on stuff like a flat lay, so that’s a pretty cool tripod too.
What type of light diffusers do you use?
A diffuser is basically a semi-transparent piece a white fabric that is the center of a reflector set.
This is a two foot reflector, and you can see it looks like this, you unzip them and they open up and then you have silver, gold, white and black as the colors, and this piece right here is the diffuser and is the piece that I use in the window. This gives you a very nice and pretty evenly diffused light, which is your goal.
You could also use lightweight white curtains to diffuse light, but make sure the fabric doesn’t have holes that let the light through.
What is the best light equipment you can recommend?
The ring lights are really nice and I like these for my art table. Also if I’m filming a welcome video I have the two ring lights on me, and it gives me a really nice natural sunlight look. I also like to use them in a window to supplement that window light for days when it’s really dark and shadowy.
These are the Neewer 18 inch LED with the white cover. They come in fluorescent and LED, but I definitely recommend getting the LED ones; in the past I’ve broke many fluorescent light bulbs and they are very expensive to replace. The LED lights are great because they are also dimmable, so you can brighten or dim the lights depending on what you need. And make sure you get the bendable head so you can position them where you need to. They’re great task lighting so if I need a desk light, now I use these.
Below you can see some lovely photos Denise took using the ring lights.
If you want the super cheap option you can use a tabletop lamp, but as they have an exposed light bulb the light can seem a little harsh, so you will need to use a light diffuser.
Here is an example of beautiful flower photography Denise took using the tabletop lamp and the diffuser.
Box lights give you great light, they are not very expensive, the only problem is they are very big, so they will be in the way if you don’t have a big work space. If you want to travel with them, you’re likely to break them in transport. The bulb is also very big, so you need to tote the bulb very carefully, and not put it in its own case.
White and Black Foam Core
I use a piece of white card or white foam core from the office store, so I use this white to reflect light back in if it’s got too many shadows on one side. And the black one helps soak up light on the other side to give your more shadows and darkness.
This is a four inch clamp which comes from the hardware store, and you need this to clamp it on the bottom of your piece to hold your piece up, so it’s like a third hand. My advice is don’t get the orange one or the red, get one that’s blue or black because if it’s got a bright color it reflects into your photo and it looks terrible.
“I’ve made every mistake like 12 times and been like okay this is the way”
What is your preferred set-up for indoor photography?
Table in front of the window
I recommend a small table in the window and what that’s going to do for you is allow you to pull it up to the window and push it out of the way if you need to. You can get a drop leaf table, those are even better because then you can expand the size of the table and shrink it down, and I’ve also worked on a TV tray.
Below is an example of lovely photography Denise took using a small table set up in the window.
You can use a board or any type of surface that you want to shoot. I’ve got some photography boards that have been painted and these are nice. You can get a nice piece of thin plywood and paint it up to be a backdrop and a base if you want it, so that’s a good solution.
On the wall I’ve got a great big black painted backdrop, you can have a backdrop stand and some painted backdrops. If you want to paint your wall or backdrop, and you want a dark colour to absorb the light, I would suggest painting it a a charcoal grey and this grey will give your photos a nice depth, instead of true black which can be too stark.
I like it because I like to shoot dark and moody, and this whole room is painted white so I didn’t want all the white reflecting back in on my set.
Old crate background
I usually shoot with an old crate or in front of the crate, sometimes the crate is the backdrop and I shoot in the crate because it’s got depth, which creates richness to my darkness, rather than a flat black background.
One of my favorite backdrop solutions is to take photos of things you like, and have it printed on matte or satin paper and then mounted to foam core, this is called Gator Board and it’s a little bit thicker than regular foam core.
I also print textures and mount them on the board and it’s absolutely gorgeous printed and that would be a great surface to use as a base or a backdrop. 24 by 36 inches or 24 by 30 inches that seems to be like perfect sizing for my table area.
What photo editing software do you use most?
Currently I use Lightroom in Photoshop – it’s what I learnt on and what frustrates me about a lot of the newer programs is they change so drastically year to year and then they take things off the market and put new things out, like they’re trying to get you to buy new software every year.
With Lightroom if you learnt it early on, you could pick it right back up today no matter what version you’re in, and the same with Photoshop, the basic functions are still there and the features are still the same. It’s geared more towards longevity, rather than some of these other ones that are geared towards making sales every year.
I begin most of my art by pulling it into Lightroom and doing basic edits and maybe applying some of the presets just for faster editing, or maybe I’ll create a custom preset for a whole collection of photographs that I can edit fairly quickly and then I’ll pull them into Photoshop if I want to do some extra editing, such as adding textures.
Are there any other accessories you use?
Fishnet mesh or any other type of hosiery
Something like a fishnet hose, that you can put it right over the lens and secure it with a rubber band, gives the photo a painterly effect straight out of the camera. This is my favorite hack.
Also you can use pink mesh hose, like this one. I’ve cut a hole in it so when you’re when you’ve got this over the lens and you’re shooting with the hole close to the center, what happens is you have a photo that is really clear in the middle with a kind of a pink haze around it.
These are aperture discs, they’re little black shapes that you can use with the Lensbaby and if there’s light behind you, that light gets turned into a shape, so if it’s a heart and you’re taking a picture of your Christmas tree all the little lights look like little hearts.
You can also make your own, by cutting them out of cardboard and sizing them for your camera.
They have little collections called Omni discs, and there’s more than one collection of these. They are little discs and flat plates that you can put up beside the lens as you’re shooting, and they’ll create reflections, holes and a little shaped things.
So if you are interested in things that are a little more creative you can do your own photographer’s hack and get colored sparkly papers.
There’s also flat plates, which you can very easily replicate. These are like films that you can put on top of your lens that will change the color of your pictures.
They’ve also got things that you can put beside the lens with holes in, or shoot through them and manipulate what the photo will look like. They are super fun so you could experiment with as many as you like.
Magnification micro filters
These are little magnification micro filters; you screw them onto the front of your lens, so you get them in the size of your lens. If you’ve got the 50 millimeter lens you can take one of these filters, and just hold it out and shoot through that focus on whatever’s in the lens.
I captured this really old church within a pretty landscape on an historical site that I visited. I lined the magnification micro filter up with the church and I focused through the lens; what it did was make everything around me blurry and it flips whatever’s in it, so you can then see your hand and the flipped image, it’s the coolest thing.
Get creative with what you’re doing when you’re shooting, and take some of these ideas and try them.
My other favorite thing you can use to shoot through is a copper tube; this is a plumbing pipe copper tube. It’s the perfect size, so this is 3/4 of an inch (2.5cm) by 1 inch and 1/2 (4cm). It really is my favorite gadget ever let me tell you, if you get nothing else please try the copper tube.
As you’re shooting hold this up to the center of your lens and your lens will focus through the tube, it will create this lovely ring effect around your subject that sometimes looks copper colored and sometimes looks foliage covered. Whatever it is that you’re shooting, it just creates the most magical effect, and this is 50 cents.
Denise was kind enough to also answer a few frequently asked questions about indoor photography from Google.
How do we achieve sharp pictures indoors?
For sharp pictures indoors you need to be shooting at at least a minimum of 1/60th of a second, I prefer 1/80th of a second for your shutter speed because if your shutter is not flipping fast enough, if it’s staying open any slower than that, then it’s staying open so long that you’re going to be moving or breathing, so it’s going to be impossible to get a clear photo.
Also consider stabilizing the camera on a tripod or a stack of books if you have to have a makeshift tripod. If you’re on a tripod, use a shutter release that would prevent your hand touching the camera causing any extra movement.
If you’re hand holding you can put the lens stabilization on and it will help you stabilize a little bit more. If you’re on a tripod, turn that setting off because weirdly it’s sitting so still that the lens is confused and it tries to stabilize something that’s already stable.
Why are my indoor photos blurry and what can I do to avoid this?
We have covered most of this already, but another thing to consider, on your camera is this little dial right here. What this little dial does is it creates the right vision for your eyes in the viewfinder. Let’s say you have perfect vision then you’re probably going to have that all the way to one end with no correction on it, but if you’re up to 1.0 in your reading glasses, then you’re going to look through this viewfinder and you’re going to move this optical viewer, so that whatever you’re looking through becomes clear in this viewfinder and then you’re ready to focus.
Is a 35mm lens good for indoor photography?
The short answer is no. If you’ve got a short lens, say 35 millimeter that is usually a wider lens that’s more for landscapes, it is not a lens that I would choose to use for indoor photography.
The 50 millimeter is probably the shallowest distance that I would use for indoor photography and the Lensbaby Velvet, which I love so much, is a 56 millimeter lens. I will say though the great big lens on the camera which is 24 to 70, has enough of a range in there that this would be a great indoor lens.
Would you need a flash for indoor photography?
I’m very anti-flash for 99.9% of your photography, just don’t even think about it. I have a flash, and I’ve tried it but my suggestion is you don’t need it.
You will see on the Pro Camera that there is no flash on it at all, it’s just not even an option, but there is a mount for a hot shot flash, however middle grade cameras will have a flash that pops out.
If you’re going to have to use a flash at all then you’d need like a little hot shot flash and the only time I would suggest you use this is if you’re a wedding or event photographer and you’ve got to shoot the people dancing and you can’t set up the lights on everyone.
Pro Tip: Never use the flash on the subject, you want to bounce the flash off of the ceiling, or a white wall or something.
Flash Diffuser Box
You can also use a little flash diffuser box, which is like a softbox for the flash, just like you’d have on the box lights, this is the LumiQuest Mini Softbox, It’s funny how I am anti-flash, but I have all these little gadgets which I never use, and this is because I bought them early on when I wanted to get into wedding photography.
“Try everything at least once and see what works for you!”
What aperture should you use indoors?
This totally depends on how much blur you want in that photo, so I’m a blur girl, but being a blur girl doesn’t mean I always shoot wide open. If I’m shooting from a little further back then I have a little more leeway in how much is going to be in focus because, for instance if I’m looking at the scene that we have over here and I’m far back can we see that everything on this section right here may be in the focus area and everything behind it might be in blur.
It all depends how much of the scene you want in focus. In my set-up, if I want just the edge of the plate in focus 2.8 might still work but if I want more of my subject in focus I’m going to have to consider upping that F-stop to maybe F4 or maybe F 5.6 to get enough of my subject in focus but still have plenty of blur behind it.
Here are some lovely photos taken by Denise using the above set-up.
If I’m shooting macro, let’s say I’m getting right up on this corner of this silver dish, now I have to consider do I want the tip of this corner of the silver plate In Focus or the whole corner in focus and maybe 5.6 is not enough maybe then I need to be on F8 or you know higher, so it depends on how close or far away you are as to how much your F-stop needs to be, as to how much blur you’ll get and if you don’t like blur you need to be shooting on F8 or higher for everything.
What is the best time of day for indoor photography?
Depending on what direction your window faces, I’m shooting up here in my little office that faces the East so the sun rises on this side of the house, and so sun is coming through this window in the morning and that’s when you want to be shooting, when the light is coming through that window.
Another beautiful example of photography shot by Denise using natural window light.
Best Camera, Equipment and Setup for Indoor Photography
We hope you have enjoyed this article, and you’ve learnt as much as we have about the best setup for indoor photography. We can’t wait to try a few of the tricks that Denise shared, and hope we can take beautiful still photos like she does. If you want to learn more about photography editing from Denise make sure to check out her amazing courses linked below, and also have a look at some of the photo editing sessions.