4 ways to create dramatic light at home

by Kate T Parker

We all can use more drama in our lives, right? Especially at home. Who doesn’t like drama at home?


What?!? Am I alone here??

Wait, I think you misunderstood.

I meant dramatic light. You know, darks and lights intersecting with a gorgeous subject placed just so. Just the thought makes me want to grab my camera (and my unwilling kids).

4 ways to create dramatic light at home photo

That kind of drama is always good…at least when we’re speaking photographically. All the other kinds, eh, let’s leave it to the Real Housewives.  They are the experts.

I undertook a 365 project this year (highly recommend one!) and photographing my kids in the same house, the same rooms, day after day started to bore me. I wanted to stretch, to change things up, to create beautiful images in my home (and translate that to my client’s homes). Once I started looking for the light, as opposed to looking for the moments, things changed and my images changed.

I am going to write out a list of the best places in and around your home to find that dramatic light. The light that, hopefully, translates to stunning and amazing images that no one will believe you shot in your dirty crowded garage. (Seriously, garage light is the best…see?).

4 ways to create dramatic light at home photo

1. Window Light

Well, duh. Of course everyone knows that windows are awesome to shoot near. But, try something different. Try shooting just in the light of the window. Put the actual window out of frame. Turn all the lights off in the room and close the door. Expose for the light on their face. Place your subject where the light falls on the floor. Have them look out the window. Get the catchlights in their eyes. Have them turn, get those deep, dramatic shadows across their face (sometimes they’re good!).

4 ways to create dramatic light at home photo

4 ways to create dramatic light at home photo

4 ways to create dramatic light at home photo

Another way to use window light is at night. Place your subject outside, turn the lights on in the house and let the soft window light fall on their face or try to just blow out the light of a window and then use your subject as a darker area of focus.

4 ways to create dramatic light at home photo

4 ways to create dramatic light at home photo

4 ways to create dramatic light at home photo

2. Computer/TV Light

We all know our kids love the computer. This is not a hard shot to get. This shot below was my kids watching “funny cat videos” on YouTube and it was, by far, the easiest shot I’ve gotten of the two of them in months! Get your subjects in a dark room, turn up the brightness on the computer and wait for that cat to fall in the toilet. Again, expose for the light on their faces.

4 ways to create dramatic light at home photo

3. Garage Light

The garage is the valhalla of dramatic light. Open one door, see where the light stops and the shadows start. Place your subject just in the light or just in the darks. Switch it up, place them half and half. Have fun with it.

4 ways to create dramatic light at home photo

4 ways to create dramatic light at home photo

Does your garage have windows? Lucky you!  I shot 50% of my 365 in my garage. This is how I shoot…shut all the doors, open the blinds on one window and place your subject in that light. Don’t actually shoot the window. All you want is that awesome, directional light. That’s the beauty of the garage; it is almost like having a studio with directional studio lights but instead of moving the lights you move your subjects or open another window. I have all my props, a ladder, a fan in my garage. It is my dirty, oil smelling studio.

4 ways to create dramatic light at home photo

4 ways to create dramatic light at home photo

4 ways to create dramatic light at home photo

4 ways to create dramatic light at home photo

4 ways to create dramatic light at home photo

4. Anywhere Light and Dark Come Together

Look for the light in your home. Check the bottom of the stairs. The bathroom? Anywhere you have lights and darks it is going to make for some dramatic light.

4 ways to create dramatic light at home photo

Alright, now you know how to find the light and how to shoot in it….let’s talk editing.

I am a huge fan of blacks and whites in everything but especially with dramatic light. My advice here is to not be afraid of black blacks! I bring the blacks way up when I edit (I am a Lightroom girl). Then I use the heal tool to erase anything that is distracting among the blacks.

4 ways to create dramatic light at home photoKate T Parker, Georgia
CMU Instructor | CMpro
website | facebook | pinterest
Kate is a photographer living in Atlanta, GA, shooting it all…families, fine art, commercial, and weddings.   Her two girls, husband and loyal golden retriever along with daily boxing classes keep her sane, centered and laughing.   Her fine art work focuses on her family and specifically her two girls and their friends. Her work has been shown at Mason Murer Gallery, Detroit Center for Fine Art Photography,  1650 Gallery, Panopticon Gallery, The Darkroom Gallery, The Center For Fine Art Photography among others.

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49 Responses to “4 ways to create dramatic light at home”

  1. Oct 11 2012 at 11:18 am #

    This is great!!

  2. Oct 11 2012 at 11:25 am #

    You are so talented, Kate! I LOVE your DP submissions! Great post!

  3. Oct 11 2012 at 11:40 am #

    This is FABULOUS. Thanks so much for sharing! Gorgeous, dramatic photos!

  4. melissa deakin
    Oct 11 2012 at 11:46 am #

    Love Kate's work so much! Thanks so much for sharing this. Incredible!

  5. Oct 11 2012 at 11:47 am #

    Thank you Kate for this wonderful tutorial. I love dramatic light and you've given me so much inspiration to try some new locations around my home. :)

  6. JuanitasPhotoBox
    Oct 11 2012 at 12:00 pm #

    I love this!!!!!! Your photo's are amazing :)

  7. Kathy Thorson
    Oct 11 2012 at 12:00 pm #

    Your images are beautiful. Thank you for sharing this great information.

  8. Oct 11 2012 at 12:09 pm #

    Love this! Thank you!! Do you do your own black & white conversions in Lightroom or use presets?

  9. Pat
    Oct 11 2012 at 12:20 pm #

    Awesome! Can't wait to play in the dark!!!

  10. Oct 11 2012 at 1:07 pm #

    Love this! Just beautiful!

  11. Oct 11 2012 at 1:16 pm #

    I adore kate-she is amazing…so excited my new garage is going to have a window!!!!! Thanks for this great post!

  12. justine
    Oct 11 2012 at 1:40 pm #

    Thank you Kate!

  13. keely
    Oct 11 2012 at 1:55 pm #

    Kate – you are one of the reasons I keep refreshing CM daily project page so frequently. Your images really speak to me and have since the first one I saw. I love your use of dramatic light and editing, and am thrilled with this blog post!

  14. Oct 11 2012 at 3:07 pm #

    Fantastic post and gorgeous eye candy to go along with it. I'm such a fan – thanks for letting us inside your head a bit! :)

  15. Oct 11 2012 at 4:15 pm #

    thanks all for the kind comments! and for clickin moms for asking! love sharing tips (and hearing them, too!) :)

  16. alideckphotography
    Oct 11 2012 at 5:35 pm #

    Fantastic advice! Here's my fav. low light. ;) http://www.flickr.com/photos/allthestarskaikaesa/

  17. Oct 11 2012 at 5:49 pm #

    Love this post, Kate ! Thank you for the great tips and the (daily) inspiration.

  18. Oct 11 2012 at 6:14 pm #

    Kate, this is fantastic!! Very inspiring post.

  19. catherine r.
    Oct 11 2012 at 7:28 pm #

    I'd wondered about "how'd she do that?" with some of your photos! Glad to know garage light is your BFF! Great post!

  20. Nichole J
    Oct 11 2012 at 8:50 pm #

    This was really great!! I really want to be able to take better indoor shots of my kids. This is great inspiration to find the light!

  21. Oct 11 2012 at 10:17 pm #

    Lovely article, Kate! Love your work and seeing you on the Daily Project!

  22. Ellen K
    Oct 11 2012 at 11:08 pm #

    LOVE this!! The freckles and the bird? Sigh…. :)

  23. Oct 12 2012 at 2:12 am #

    WOW love these images and tips!!! going to try ASAP!!

  24. Oct 12 2012 at 1:07 pm #

    Kate, you are a master of light and I'm excited to hear your "how tos" on dramatic light since I also shoot a lot indoors!

  25. Pam
    Oct 12 2012 at 7:14 pm #

    inspired to try out garage light! Thanks for the post!

  26. Ashley Maple
    Oct 13 2012 at 12:28 am #

    wow! stunning images! i wish I had a garage!

  27. Oct 13 2012 at 9:34 pm #

    your dramatic images always leave me thinking. i adore your work. thanks for a peek inside your process!

  28. Emma Wood
    Oct 14 2012 at 9:39 am #

    Really great article Kate, I love how you use light.

  29. Oct 15 2012 at 11:51 pm #

    The next time I read a blog, I hope that it won’t disappoint me as much as this one. After all, Yes, it was my choice to read through, however I truly thought you’d have something helpful to say. All I hear is a bunch of whining about something you could possibly fix if you weren’t too busy seeking attention.

  30. Claudia Hagan
    Oct 17 2012 at 9:04 pm #

    Hi Kate, thanks for the images and words, they give us good ideas for finding more places around us, even if are not the ideals. I have a question, at what Iso do you usually shoot inside with? Love your work…

  31. M
    Oct 18 2012 at 10:46 am #

    Wow, AMAZING pictures! Your kids look precious. And thanks so much for the tips :)

  32. Ligia
    Oct 19 2012 at 10:54 am #

    Wow, just wow! You rock, thanks for the tips. You got a new fan here!

  33. Misty Colvard
    Oct 24 2012 at 1:08 am #

    Very helpful post. Your images and your children are beautiful.

  34. Nov 12 2012 at 9:26 pm #

    Hello I am fotografo de bodas in Madrid and your advices are fantastic, I am trying to give my pictures a touch of drama light, specially when bride is preparing at home. Maybe switch off the lights in the room and use only windows light can give me this effect very well. I will try.
    Best regards,
    David Crespo
    Wedding photographer Spain

  35. Kelly Garvey
    Nov 21 2012 at 8:14 pm #

    This is so great! Thank you!

  36. Rachael
    Feb 14 2014 at 11:53 am #

    I searched “Dramatic photography” into Google, and I’m guessing a picture of your daughter popped up. However I have been on three different computers and a phone to try to see these photos. I still can’t see them!! Am I doing something wrong? The comments say they are really good and I was hoping for some inspiration with your photos. Thanks Kate!

  37. Rachael
    Feb 14 2014 at 11:56 am #

    And of course right after I post my comment, the pictures are visible. I love them!! Thank you for sharing your work!

  38. Mohojo
    Mar 15 2014 at 12:32 am #

    I also am unable to see the images. Hoping they show up after I post! The ones on google images are beautiful.

  39. May 29 2014 at 9:25 pm #

    Are you kidding me? This was a great tutorial. I am kicking myself for not getting my kids outside tonight when the sun was setting – I kept thinking and watching – and then I forgot by the time it was actually setting.

    And I totally noticed the blacks. Amazing and I love it. It’s more dramatic than I will usually go so now I need to try it.

    Loved this info, so glad you shared, your photos are beautiful!

  40. Melissa
    May 29 2014 at 11:40 pm #

    Gorgeous photos and great advice. When you say to “expose for the light on their faces”, how do I do that, exactly? Is that with the spot meter? My spot meter is in the center, so does that mean I’ll have to always use center composition? I’m doing a project 52, and I’m going to make this my focus for the next few weeks because I, too, have gotten bored in my house!!!

  41. Sherry Walen
    May 30 2014 at 1:26 pm #

    my little granddaughter is hard to catch, but if she’s watching “Frozen”….she is frozen in a small living room with a big picture window…:)

  42. Marcus
    Oct 20 2014 at 2:52 pm #

    Luv the photos. what are the basic settings such as what fstop and shutter speed did you use?

  43. Dr. Chaos
    Nov 03 2014 at 8:33 pm #

    I absolutely LOVE your photos. GREAT use of light and dark. Great tips on the use of light around the house. Well done!

  44. Nov 23 2014 at 1:15 pm #

    Hi Kate
    This is my very first visit and I enjoyed this post tremendously. I just finished a basic 8 week photography course and have already experienced a number of AHA moments to improve my photo skills. Your photos are amazing and I so hope that i will be able to capture the light the way you do one day. Practise, practise, practise. Light is the biggest challenge. Thank you fro sharing.

    My Rose Valley


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