5 easy tips for shooting in small spaces

by Elicia Graves

5 easy tips for shooting in small spaces photo

A little over a year ago my family moved from Texas to California, downsizing our living space by 50%.  We sold much of our furniture because there was simply no room for it and adjusted to smaller rooms and living areas. Our new little house has lovely light in two of the bedrooms and that is where I do almost all of my indoor shooting.  Sometimes I struggle to come up with something fresh and new in the same spaces but I have a mental game plan that I’m going to share with you that has really helped me to continue to produce images that I love in my tiny house.

1.  Observe the light over the course of the day

The lighting in your image plays an enormous part in the feeling it imparts to the viewer.  Is it lighthearted and cheery?  Is it dramatic and moody? I know that the light in my girls’ room starts the day rather soft.  Mid morning it is flooded with beautiful cheery light, and the last light of the day gives me shadowy directional lighting.  The fairy wings image above was shot using the last light of the day coming in from an east facing window. The next image with my daughter in the red dress was shot during the day when light was filling the room.  It has a totally different feel to it even though it was shot within two feet of the fairy wing.

5 easy tips for shooting in small spaces photo

2.  Change your perspective

This is such a simple thing to say, but I generally like to sit back and observe and sometimes I need to remind myself to move in close to my subject.  Maybe you are the exact opposite.  Either way, when you actively think about changing your perspective you will liven up your images. Try shooting from above your subject, lay on the floor, shoot them from one side and then shift yourself around them.  As you do so, pay attention to the lighting and how it falls across your subject.  Try moving your subject closer or further away from your light source and see what works best.

5 easy tips for shooting in small spaces photo

5 easy tips for shooting in small spaces photo

5 easy tips for shooting in small spaces photo

In this series of images I shot my baby from directly above her, from the side, and then from in front of her. I love the variety of looks that I managed to get in only a few minutes of shooting.

2.  Change up the room

Don’t be afraid to move things around or rearrange furniture.  I took this image while I was taking Megan Cieloha‘s Mastering Natural Light Indoors workshop.  I moved the rocking chair out of the way and it felt like I was shooting in a new room.

5 easy tips for shooting in small spaces photo

Likewise, I will change up the bedding on my daughter’s bed to fit my mood or the feelings I want to evoke from my viewer.

4.  Place limitations on your shoots

Most of my favorites images have been taken during the course of a CMU class.  I’ve slowly come to realize how focusing on one or two things can drive growth and evoke creativity.  You can focus on almost anything that you want.  I like to participate in the CM monthly challenges when I’m lacking inspiration.  One week I focused on showing motion in my work.

5 easy tips for shooting in small spaces photo

5 easy tips for shooting in small spaces photo

You could try something like filling the frame with your subject, shooting shadows, pets only, serious faces.  The possibilities are endless but it is really encouraging to see that you can come up with something new time and time again just by choosing one new thing to focus on.

5.  Revisit the past

When I’m feeling particularly uninspired, I will go back to some of my favorite images and attempt to recreate them.  I might look at them and think about what I could have done better when I shot them the first time around. Or try them in a different lighting situation to see how it changes the impact it makes on the viewer. The most important thing is that you are picking up your camera and using it and not letting your small space hinder your creativity.

5 easy tips for shooting in small spaces photoElicia Graves, California
CM Mentor
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Elicia, a long time art lover, began her journey through photography shortly before she became a mother. She says, “I had always had an interest in art yet photography was the first medium where I felt my vision translate. I can’t draw a stick figure to save my life.” Drawn to black and white photography in particular, she has a very intimate, peaceful, and earnest style to her work. Her gear includes a Nikon D800 and three prime lenses, a 28mm, 35mm, and 85mm. Elicia lives in California with her husband and two daughters and enjoys running, reading, hiking, the beach, ice cream, the farmers market, and Anthropologie.

Read all photography tutorials by Elicia Graves.

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60 Responses to “5 easy tips for shooting in small spaces”

  1. Jan 30 2013 at 11:35 am #

    thanks for posting this. My daughter’s have unusually small sized bedrooms (even though the rest of our house is actually pretty spacious!) but great light, so I am always challenged by this. I am currently taking the MNLI class online (as a study along) and really love the way it is opening my eyes creatively speaking. Thanks again!

    • Jan 30 2013 at 4:00 pm #

      Thanks Jennifer! I bet you are loving MNLI. It really changed the way I shoot. <3

  2. Jan 30 2013 at 11:43 am #

    Loved this, Elicia! We’re also in a small space so I will be keeping these tips in mind! :)

    • Jan 30 2013 at 4:01 pm #

      Thanks for the love Megan. :) It is nice to know that I’m not alone in the small living quarters situation.

  3. Jan 30 2013 at 1:08 pm #

    What great inspirational ideas Elicia!!

    • Jan 30 2013 at 4:02 pm #

      Thanks Melissa! xoxo

  4. Jan 30 2013 at 1:48 pm #

    This is a wonderful post, Elicia, and your girls are just gorgeous!!

    • Jan 30 2013 at 4:02 pm #

      Aww Parikha, thank you! I am partial to them myself. <3

  5. Jan 30 2013 at 1:50 pm #

    Great tips for someone new to photography. Thanks!

    • Jan 30 2013 at 4:03 pm #

      Nanna, I’m so glad to hear that! Best of luck in your journey!

  6. Leontien
    Jan 30 2013 at 2:13 pm #

    Thanks, great tips!

    • Jan 30 2013 at 4:04 pm #

      Thank you for your feedback Leontien. :)

  7. Jan 30 2013 at 5:51 pm #

    Love this! Super helpful and helps me feel inspired to try some new things in our tiny house!

  8. Martha
    Jan 30 2013 at 5:55 pm #

    Love them all!, Elicia! I especially love the one of your baby with just her hands. I so wonder what she is reaching for. I love all those darling wrinkles on her palm and the dimples on the back. Beautiful!

    • Jan 31 2013 at 2:33 am #

      Martha that is one of my very favorite images. Thank you so much!

  9. Jan 30 2013 at 6:01 pm #

    This was awesome, Elicia. So many wonderful tips to try. :)

  10. Heather Meyer
    Jan 30 2013 at 6:07 pm #

    Great post Elicia! Sometimes I totally miss the small spaces that could make a fabulous photo because I didn’t look at it the right way or didn’t move something. Our house isn’t tiny, but aren’t built spaciously.

    • Jan 31 2013 at 2:34 am #

      Thanks my friend! You have to get creative when there are only a handful of windows in your house! But I know you know how to use light effectively! :)

  11. Meredith
    Jan 30 2013 at 6:15 pm #

    fabulous tips and gorgeous images to go along!!

    • Jan 31 2013 at 2:35 am #

      Thank you Meredith! xo

  12. Mabel
    Jan 30 2013 at 6:44 pm #

    Good tips!

  13. Jill
    Jan 30 2013 at 7:19 pm #

    Love! I’m trying to master the light in my new house and this gave me great ideas. What lens do you use to get the full body shots in close quarters?

    • Jan 30 2013 at 11:05 pm #

      Thanks Jill! I use my 35mm pretty much exclusively! It is a fabulous focal length for indoors on a full frame camera. If you are on a crop sensor I would try the 24-28mm range.

  14. Jan 30 2013 at 7:41 pm #

    Thank you so much for sharing, Elicia! You’ve given me some fresh ideas to try in our 700 sq ft house! :)

    • Jan 30 2013 at 11:08 pm #

      Dang Mikki, you have me beat! We are like 1000. It is small but we are no less happy than when we had double the space!

  15. Jan 30 2013 at 8:09 pm #

    These are awesome tips! My house is small and looking forward to trying these

    • Jan 30 2013 at 11:08 pm #

      Thanks Tricia! Best of luck!

  16. Jan 30 2013 at 8:11 pm #

    Such a great article, E!

    • Jan 30 2013 at 11:07 pm #

      Thanks sweet friend <3

  17. Fantastic tips! Your portraits are so gorgeous! Thank you for sharing your knowledge!

    • Jan 30 2013 at 11:06 pm #

      Thank you Jamie! I have long admired your work. I appreciate your compliment so much!

  18. Tiffany
    Jan 30 2013 at 10:38 pm #

    Great post and great photos! What lens do you use when shooting inside?

    • Jan 30 2013 at 11:06 pm #

      Thank you so much Tiffany! I use the 35mm f1.4L pretty much exclusively on a full frame camera. I love that focal length.

  19. Adele Humphries
    Jan 31 2013 at 12:02 am #

    Beautiful images and great tips Elicia!

    • Jan 31 2013 at 2:37 am #

      Thank you so much Adele. <3

  20. Jan 31 2013 at 1:01 am #

    Love your tips Elicia! Thanks for sharing!

    • Jan 31 2013 at 2:38 am #

      I love your tips too! :) Thanks Allison!

  21. Kristin Dokoza
    Jan 31 2013 at 1:04 am #

    Great tips Elicia – I agree with focusing on one aspect of your photography at a time. So much can be discovered. Gorgeous images in your tutorial! Love those girls!

    • Jan 31 2013 at 2:37 am #

      Thanks Kristin! Super excited about our class together.

  22. Jan 31 2013 at 1:28 am #

    Great article Elicia. I always love seeing your beautiful work.

    • Jan 31 2013 at 2:36 am #

      Thanks Narelle! Same goes for your lovely work!

  23. Jan 31 2013 at 3:42 am #

    I love this, Elicia!! Thank you for the inspiration and the beautiful eye candy <3

    • Jan 31 2013 at 1:28 pm #

      I appreciate your kind words Anne. Thank you!

  24. Jan 31 2013 at 10:32 am #

    Elica…I can never get enough of your girls!! such a fantastic article that many can relate too. beautiful work.

    • Jan 31 2013 at 1:32 pm #

      Aww, Leah, thank you so much! <3

  25. Jan 31 2013 at 12:07 pm #

    Elicia- thank you!!! I really needed to hear these tips.

    • Jan 31 2013 at 1:31 pm #

      You are so welcome Sarah! xoxo

  26. Jan 31 2013 at 2:53 pm #

    this is fantastic, elicia! thanks for all the great tips on shooting in small spaces… they really have me thinking. i am in LOVE with the picture of your baby standing at the edge of the bed holding the rail! the light and shadows are make the image so real and beautiful!

    • Jan 31 2013 at 3:47 pm #

      Thank you so much for your kind words Jodi! That is one of my top five favorite images that I’ve taken. <3 I'm glad you love it too!

  27. Feb 01 2013 at 2:31 pm #

    Great post, Elicia! I don’t know you, but I think we just missed each other in LB meetup. How did we lose you to Cali?!?!

    • Feb 02 2013 at 3:06 am #

      Hey Vaune! That is too bad! Your work is just lovely. I miss the LB group!

  28. Feb 01 2013 at 5:35 pm #

    Loved this!!!! I adore the light in that room! :)

    • Feb 02 2013 at 3:06 am #

      Thanks Miss Heidi! I do too! :)

  29. Dana Foley
    Feb 01 2013 at 6:10 pm #

    Elicia, Fantastic tips, and gorgeous pictures! Your pictures have such a magical quality <3

    • Feb 02 2013 at 3:07 am #

      Oh Dana, thank YOU! <3

  30. Feb 03 2013 at 10:56 am #

    Thanks so much for the tips! You photography is stunning!!

  31. Feb 10 2013 at 7:30 pm #

    Hi Elicia! I can’t believe I found you on here. Great post! Pi Phi Love & Mine, Jenn

  32. Feb 11 2013 at 1:05 am #

    Great tips and really nice natural light shots.

  33. Feb 12 2013 at 9:49 am #

    This post was inspiring and beautiful and very helpful! Love, love, love!!!

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