working around the clutter

by Narelle Bailey

Have you ever caught yourself thinking “I could make great images if only my home looked like it came right out of Pinterest”? I know I have.  There are times when I have felt like my favorite photographers (especially the lifestyle ones) must all have beautiful homes with high ceilings, great big windows with magnificent light everywhere.  Most of all they must have absolutely no mess or clutter.  How else can their photographs look so good?

I thought about this quite a bit last year and decided to set myself a mission.  I was going to document my family life regardless of my unglamorous home and 4 year old boy that leaves a constant trail of destruction.  Here I will show you some of my favorite images of 2012 with pullbacks to go with each of them.  All of these images were taken in my very ordinary home and the pullbacks taken with my iPhone so you can see just how unglamorous it really is.  My house is not all that bad I guess, but we are a family that spends more time interacting together rather than decorating.  You are about to see it as it is every day.  Not the way it would look if we were expecting guests, but truly lived in.

Playroom mess.

My kids’ playroom has so much stuff in it.  I have often wondered if I should turn it into a theme park and start charging admission.  Where did all these toys come from? For your reference, the piano is in exactly the same position as in my final photograph.

working around the clutter photo

working around the clutter photo

Living room.

Our living room is quite small and not very well lit.  However, it does have some beams of light that stream through the shutters, which I love.  I also often use the wall as a backdrop, as I like the lighting the window provides.

working around the clutter photo

working around the clutter photo

working around the clutter photo

Dining area.

Nothing special to see, but I use the windows in this space to my advantage.  I will sit my daughter there (as in the example below) or set up an activity for my son at the table.

working around the clutter photo


Our little bathroom is very dark.  Here I saw an opportunity for an interesting image when I noticed the texture of the glass window.  Seeking out different textures and lines can be a great way to create visual interest.

working around the clutter photo


Look for pockets of light and try to place your subject there.

working around the clutter photo

Spare bedroom.

This bedroom is at the back of our house.  It is mostly used as a storage space and very rarely seen by guests.

working around the clutter photo

Let’s go outside.

I am always on the lookout for interesting shadows.

working around the clutter photo

working around the clutter photo

I attempt to keep my images as simple as possible, making sure that my subject is the main focus.

working around the clutter photo

I look for open shade. The front porch as seen below looks quite dull, but it allowed me to place my daughter in the shade, while having some great light coming in on her at the same time.

working around the clutter photo

The two most important lessons in photography I have learned so far, which come up time and time again, are the following:

1. Find the light!  Try to forget about your surroundings for a moment.  Just go and find the best light available to you. Then worry about the composition.

2. You are in complete control of what is included in your frame!  SLOW DOWN. Examine your frame through the viewfinder. What have you included? Why have you included certain things and omitted others? Everything within your frame should be there for a reason.

I hope this tutorial has inspired you a little to create some great images at home or if you are in business, given you some ideas of how you can utilize the spaces in your client’s homes.

working around the clutter photoNarelle Bailey, Australia
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Narelle is a hobbyist photographer living in Victoria, Australia with her husband and 2 kids. She studied photography as part of a university degree, but like many others become more passionate about exploring the craft further after the birth of her son.  She mostly enjoys documenting her family life, capturing the everyday fleeting moments which would otherwise be forgotten.



  • Marisa says:

    I loved this post – thank you! My cluttered house discourages me all the time, but now I know to keep searching for the light! Thank you for the pullbacks – those help me immensely.

  • kasey says:

    The problem with this post is that it takes away all our excuses!!
    Such great ideas. Fabulous inspiration!

  • Kim says:

    This was fantastic and very inspiring to me. Great idea to show pullbacks. Reminds me to pay more attention to my present surroundings!

  • Lisa says:

    Thank you for this! It was great and so helpful to see the pullbacks.

  • Chelsi says:

    This was so awesome! I live in a little apartment and am constantly thinking about how nice it would be to have a big bright house with lots of windows. I am going to put this to good use this week! Thank you :)

  • Mia says:

    Narelle, thanks so much for showing how you were successfully creative around clutter! It’s something I struggle with being in a two bedroom with my husband & two kids, but this has definitely got me excited about looking at my home with a new set of eyes!

  • jane button says:

    Narelle, this is so helpful for me – thank you for the post! I may do one of these to help my clients see that lifestyle shoots in their home are WAY better than artificial sets in the studio :)

  • Amy says:

    Thank you for this article! Great examples and reminders to make the most of what is in front of us!

  • jana says:

    THANK YOU!! I needed this today. I’ve hit a wall so many times trying to find the ‘perfect’ place in my home. This gave me tons of inspiration.

  • michelle says:

    Straight forward sensible advie, and loved your use of light Narelle.

  • Syreeta says:

    Love this post, I live in the UK with tiny windows and small rooms and way too much stuff! Great inspiration.

  • Donna L says:

    Thank you so much for this – it’s particularly awesome as I’m also in Australia and find a lot of articles like this are from OS and in houses that are a completely different style to mine, whereas this is REALLY helpful and relevant :)

  • Jane dP says:

    So happy to have stumbled across this article , this was my goal to work on!

  • Ana says:

    Fantastic! Love the pull-backs. Thanks!

  • Sara says:

    Great post! I’m amazed at how you’ve utilized your space!

  • Melanie says:

    WOW – awesome!! You make it look so easy! Will try this. Thanks!

  • LeAnne says:

    Siiiigh…. Thank you SO MUCH for this!! I constantly look around my house and think… ick. CLUTTER! But now I realize… it’s a “home” not a show room.

  • Jessica Allison says:

    This was awesome! Thank you!

  • Erin says:

    YES! I often feel the same way when I view other photographers’ work… feeling that they must live in these well-organized, perfectly appointed homes. Even when they go into clients homes, it appears that everyone has such loveliness in their surroundings, and (boohoo), I do not.

    I really appreciate the pullbacks in this tutorial. It has inspired me to keep trying to find those pockets of light, which I know I should start with, and to see it to the advantage that it can be.


  • Samantha says:

    This was a wonderful read and very enlightening. Thank you.

  • Barbara P. says:

    What a helpful and inspiring article! Thank you for giving me motivation and no excuses as to why I can’t take photos in my own home.

  • Aino says:

    What a great article! It is so great that you did the pullbacks – it explains it so well. Awesome article and examples!

  • CJ Olson says:

    Thank you Narelle for all your beautiful pictures and the pullbacks. I really appreciate seeing this. It’s very helpful!

  • Kerrilee says:

    Thanks for sharing your pullbacks…it gives me renewed hope! I’m in Melbourne Australia in an overcrowded 1920’s rental (interesting layout and quite dark) and 6 kids worth of stuff and 3 little boys under 5 who are a cyclone of mess. As an artist I can get away with images that document the mess as it is (as a comment on the reality of life as a mum) but have been lately searching for something more peaceful and simple and beautiful. Your work has that! Love the honesty of you sharing your space. Thanks!

  • mara says:

    This is FANTASTIC and so inspiring. Thank you – just the motivation I needed to ignore the clutter and keep shooting.

  • Nia says:

    Very inspirational and educational with the pulled back images. Thank you for sharing so we can all learn.

  • Michelle E Simon says:

    Wait until you have more children…this house is not messy, just gently lived in. I have 4 kids, 6 cats, 3 dogs…and a husband, we have never had an un-messy house- I’m waiting for the kids to move out for that- one down, 3 to go! Yes, it is possible to get good photos within all of the chaos,, use your vision & shoot some pull-backs, for example, the whole living room, with a child sitting & reading on the couch or on the floor,etc…
    We cannot be perfect & we shouldn’t expect others to be, be happy & live.

  • Julie says:

    This was great! Thank you for sharing!!

  • Ali Smith says:

    GREAT tutorial. SOOO needed right now!

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