These days, when it’s too dark and cold and snowy (or, in my case, rainy) to do much in the way of outdoor shooting, it can be fun to get your creative juices flowing by making a little studio right in your home!
I have been doing this with my daughter for years and it is a fun way to spend an afternoon! We like to pick out the backdrop, clothing, and props together and then do our shoot.
First, scout out your home by looking around at different times of the day, taking notes on what light you have where and when. In our house, her bedroom (which has a south-facing window) has the most beautiful warm, sweet light in the late morning, and for most of the day on bright days I can also shoot in my living room and dining room if I stay near enough to the north-facing sliding windows. None of these rooms is decorated beautifully for photography or, let’s face it, even tidy enough on the average occasion to make for much of a pleasing background, but with some creative modifications, I can make a perfectly good home studio out of them!
My daughter’s room is my favorite room to work in because the quality of light in there is so buttery and soft. But she doesn’t have a lot of closet or drawer space, so it is most often a mess! We just work around that:
The window is to the right in this image, and I can soften or brighten the light by closing or opening the curtains as necessary. (If your room doesn’t have curtains but you need more control, then pinning up a white sheet across the window will work just as well to diffuse the light a bit!)
For backgrounds, I like to shop in the home decorator’s section of my local fabric store (especially when they have their 40% off coupons!) to find fabrics that inspire me. When setting up the shot, it helps to iron your backdrop as well as you can (and better than I did in this example!) to avoid shadows that form in the folds that are hard to fix in processing, especially when you are using a patterned backdrop like this. Then I tape the fabric smoothly to the wall using painter’s tape to avoid doing any damage to the walls.
When you’re all set up, place your subject to achieve the best lighting and background, and shoot! As always, watch for catchlights, turning your subject slightly more toward the window if necessary to get the catchlights to be nicely in both eyes.
Here are two examples from that setup:
For a more modern look, I like to use my living room or dining room and seamless paper. The light in those rooms is not as bright, giving me much less even lighting, which to me calls for the edgier, more current look of seamless. I have two rolls of seamless, and I most often use Thunder Gray. I tape it around a piece of foam board from the hobby shop, and prop that up on a stool or stepladder, depending on the height I need. Then I have her sit on the ground in front of it, adjusting her height and the foam board height with books as needed to ensure that her face is completely surrounded by the board to avoid having to clone in any backdrop in after the fact (though cloning with seamless is easy and works beautifully if you miss an edge!). I also sometimes prop up my reflector on the side opposite the window to add in a little fill light to the darker side of her face.
Here is the setup (notice the pajama bottoms? I pick my battles when she isn’t wholly in the mood
to entertain my desire for a photo shoot).
And here is the result:
You might also notice the hair dryer propped on a dish towel on the chair in the lower right of the set-up image. Sometimes if we want to go a little more fun, I grab that and we turn it on low to add just a hint of movement to her hair. The dish towel helps the dryer to stay put where I want it to control where the air flows. Of course, never leave the dryer on unattended. (Also in the following image I removed the reflector, which darkened the non-window side of her face for a just a hint more shading and drama.)
But what if you want to shoot more than just a head? Then you just need to find a larger blank wall by a window! For this I have also used both seamless and fabric. For ¾ or full length I prefer to use 54” or wider fabric/seamless. I sometimes need to remove photos from the wall temporarily as well (and sometimes they help hold down the background), depending on how large an area I want to capture, but the main idea remains the same. Tape your background down as flatly and smoothly as possible:
And an image from that shoot:
And finally, I have found that using a lighter-colored seamless allows me to easily alter the background if I so desire by adding texture to the image and then carefully masking out the subject. (I generally use TV Gray for this; white doesn’t work as well, and I find Thunder Gray is so dark that it hides the texture.) This just adds one more way you can get creative with your indoor studio!
And most of all, have fun—with this basic setup you can let your imagination run wild no matter
what the weather holds outside!
Jessica Holden, California
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A native of the San Francisco Bay Area she calls home, Jessica Holden is a photographer, freelance book editor, and mom with an eye for capturing the everyday moments and ordinary things that make life extraordinary. She’s been married to her one and only for 15 years, and she’s an impossible romantic. Her daughter is the light of her life and, as you may have guessed, she’s Jessica’s favorite photography subject. Jessica is inspired by beautiful light and how it plays with objects. As a little girl she was mesmerized by watching her grandfather create masterful charcoal renderings of sun-streamed redwood groves; since she can barely sketch stick figures, she tries to achieve that same radiance with her camera.