working in a small location

by Rachael Boer

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.

working in a small location photo

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.

working in a small location photo

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.

working in a small location photo

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,

working in a small location photo

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.)

working in a small location photo

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.

working in a small location photo

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:

working in a small location photo

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!

working in a small location photo

A few simple portraits of their baby boy followed. I love the simplicity of a white comforter to really draw attention to the baby.

working in a small location photo

Another macro shot to show his sweet little hands, which were so relaxed as he was dozing.

working in a small location photo

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.

working in a small location photo

Again, having them sit on the bed, I took a couple shots of the whole family to wrap up the session!

working in a small location photo

working in a small location photo

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.

working in a small location photoRachael Boer, Washington DC
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Rachael Boer is a mom, teacher, and photographer. When she’s not running after her three young children, she’s running Rachael Boer Photography, a portrait photography business based in Washington, D.C. Rachael specializes in capturing modern, simple, authentic images which highlight the joy and love in the families she photographs. She also enjoys teaching and offers a variety of services including “Photography 101″ classes for local parents and both in-person and long-distance mentoring for more advanced photographers.

Read all photography tutorials by Rachael Boer.



  • mara says:

    what an inspiring post! thank you so much…so many helpful tips i wish I would have had when I did my first newborn session last week. do you mind me asking which lenses were used to get the macro shots? and do you prefer prime lenses for the rest of the session?

  • antonette says:

    loved this post! Thanks Rachael

  • Gabby O says:

    I am in LOVE with image #5!! The candid moment where Dad is kissing Mom’s cheek and all the focus is on the sweet little baby. And his little feeties sticking up! *le sigh* love babies :)

  • Kay says:

    I love how these turned out – you are so talented. Thanks for sharing!

  • Carol Davis says:

    Stunning photos! I love the idea of taking off the comforter and replacing it with a white one. Quick thinking! Great ideas, thank you.

  • Amanda Como says:

    Wonderful tips! Your images turned out so great. Thank you for sharing your knowledge!

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