As on-location photographers, we often find ourselves shooting in locations that are less than ideal. There is no way to control the size of our clients’ homes, layout of the rooms, or the natural lighting that occurs at different times of day. It’s essential to know how to make the most out of a less-than-ideal situation so you can still deliver beautiful photographs for your clients no matter what.
Last year I was in a client’s home to photograph their family and newborn. I was shooting exclusively with natural light at that time so I needed to find a space with adequate window light for the session. Unfortunately, the house was very small and the only room with any window light was the guest bedroom. It was a small room with just a double bed and one window.
Using just that small space, I had to get creative to utilize it to its full advantage.
I stripped off their dark bedspread and replaced it with white. I knew this would give me a simple, uncluttered surface to work with, and also reflect more light onto their faces.
I started out by laying the baby down to get some shots of him alone.
I knew I wanted variety in their finished gallery, so I took some macro shots of all the little details. I love using collections of images like these to create storyboards for the baby’s nursery.
I brought mom and dad in and treated the wall as a simple white background.
Making sure to place them at a 45-degree angle to the window for soft, flattering light with minimal shadows, I took some traditional portraits,
and then moved into some more candid shots. (They were kneeling on the bed for both of these, since there was no way to get a full-length shot due to the position of the bed in the small room.)
Right at the end, I managed to corral their exuberant two year old for one sweet moment with his baby brother, a shot that is not always easy to get at this age.
One quick note on an image that did not work well:
When working with just one light source, it is very important to be aware of the direction of the light. In the image below, the lighting is coming from below the baby’s chin and “up-lighting” him. This gives a spooky quality to the light (similar to when you hold a flashlight below your chin) and is not flattering. To make this pose work, I would have needed to turn the baby around so the light is coming from the opposite direction, creating shadows below his features, rather than above.
This image demonstrates what you do NOT want. Note the shadows above his nose, chin, and cheeks:
A few days later, I had another newborn session scheduled with a different family. I knew this second family did not have any space in their basement apartment with adequate lighting, so I asked the first family if we could borrow their guest bedroom again, since it worked well the first time!
For this couple, I wanted a shot that was intimate and evoked a sense of peace as they enjoyed some quiet time with their new baby. To give the impression of “peeking in” on this special moment, I stood in the hallway and framed them with the door opening. There was some clutter in the room, but by framing the shot this way I essentially eliminated the clutter without having to move a thing!
A few simple portraits of their baby boy followed. I love the simplicity of a white comforter to really draw attention to the baby.
Another macro shot to show his sweet little hands, which were so relaxed as he was dozing.
Then, in order to use the wall as a white backdrop, I asked dad to kneel on the bed and I stood nearby and framed the image so his lower body wasn’t included.
Again, having them sit on the bed, I took a couple shots of the whole family to wrap up the session!
Ideally, in a situation like this, one should have good working knowledge of their speed light or off-camera flash, to be able to create great light anywhere. But if you don’t have that, you can still create a variety of meaningful, beautiful images in a space no larger than a double bed, if you are creative and mindful of the light you have to work with.