One of the things that I did while I was on my break in Alabama was shoot some pictures at a birthday party. My nephew’s stepson turned six, and my brother asked if I would take a few images for him.

As anyone who has taken pictures at a birthday party knows, it’s not exactly a place to show your photographic prowess. There’s a lot of people, a lot going on, and all the kids are jockeying for position to be near the birthday boy or girl.

So needless to say what I shot there is not going to win any contests. But a couple of the shots did give me the opportunity to pass along a quick tip for anyone taking pictures indoors during the daytime.

When you are outdoors, the rule of thumb is to put the biggest light source, generally the sun, at a person’s back. The reason for doing that is that it’s hard for a person looking into a light source not to squint, and that doesn’t make for a flattering picture.

However, it’s a little different if you are indoors. Even with lights on, most rooms are going to be pretty dimly lit for a camera, and putting the biggest light source at a person’s back is going to create some pretty harsh shadows if you don’t use a flash (which I don’t for indoor snapshots). The first shot below (which is straight out of the camera, by the way) was shot with my Nikon D700, which is one of the best cameras on the planet in low light situations. And even it struggles to produce a decent image with the biggest light source, a west-facing window at the subject’s back. In the next shot, the subject is in a very similar position with respect to the window, but this time he is facing the other way and I am shooting from the opposite side of the room, with the window at my back and in his face. See the difference? In the top photo, colors are off, the image is a bit soft and there is a good bit of “noise” or grain. In the second one, colors are better, it’s much more crisp and there’s a perceptible absence of noise. All because of where the biggest light source is in relation to your subject.

Something to remember the next time you are shooting your next birthday party.