I’ve always wondered what makes a photo magical. Is it the light, the location, the story telling, the connection?

It’s all of those things, and sometimes a bit of luck thrown in as well for just the right moment in time.

But what if you don’t have one of those? What if the location or the light isn’t perfect? Can your photos still be interesting? Can they still tell a story just as well? I think so!

Let’s divide this up into two sections: indoor portraits and outdoor photos.

Indoor Portraits

When you have one light source, whether it’s natural or studio light, what can you do with that? Plenty!

Plan ahead.

When you are creating a portrait in a clean space, where you have nothing to distract from your subject, the tiny little details start to add up. For the clothing, make it as least distracting as you can. You want what they are wearing to add to the story, not take away from it. Same goes with hair. It doesn’t have to be elaborate, but again, make sure it is adding to the story and not taking away from it.

portrait of girl with studio light by Jennifer Lappe

Use something interesting.

I am not a huge fan of props, but if we are trying to get intimate studio photos of little ones, sometimes handing them something to hold on to can loosen them up and make them not so aware of the camera.

window light portrait of girl in a white dress by Jennifer Lappe

Play with the light.

Changing the direction or intensity of the light can add variety to your images. If you just have a window light, consider moving them closer or farther away. As well, you can use a curtain to filter the light as it streams in. In this photo I had the light behind her and slightly above to create an interesting silhouette that is just a bit different.

low light picture of girl in a white dress by Jennifer Lappe

Focus on the details.

Get up close and personal. We want all of those tiny beautiful details captured that add up to one amazing story.

picture of girl in braid looking down by Jennifer Lappe

Get creative with your edits and crops.

This is your story, tell it your way. Even if you have just one light, one subject, and a plain background there are infinite possibilities of how to tell their story. This to me is the most powerful kind of photoshoot that there is – and sometimes the most challenging – but it also can be where you let your creativity shine!

picture of girl with face cropped in half by Jennifer Lappe

Outdoor Photographs

We all have an ideal location and lighting that we love to work with. Sometimes one or the other (or both) just aren’t available and we have to work with what we have. In this example there is the patch of overgrowth right on the side of my house. You can also see it’s not quite golden hour here but the light is being diffused by some clouds so I could work with it.

Here is the pullback image of the location used for the following outdoor photos.

pullback of photo location by Jennifer Lappe

Frame your subject with what is available.

Get up close with them and use the environment to help draw the viewer into the story you are trying to tell.

photo of girl outdoors by yellow flowers by Jennifer Lappe

Be flexible.

Sometimes your original idea just will not work with your location but you must go with the flow. Use the environment that is around you. In this case it was really windy, so we went with it!

photo of girl carrying grass outside by Jennifer Lappe

Capture the moment.

Exploration comes naturally to children. Capture them exploring the area, sometimes a patch of weeds or flowers can make the most interesting stories (and natural props!).

black and white pic of girl in the grass by Jennifer Lappe

Capture the silly.

The in-between moments when they aren’t paying attention to you at all, that is where some of my favorite images have come from. Images like these don’t need golden hour light or magnificent locations. The moments alone are enough.

picture of girl in a field looking up by Jennifer Lappe

Compose with thoughtfulness.

Have a not so interesting location? Choose a composition or angle that will help make it interesting. Here I had my long lens with me, and the composition and angle are pretty standard, but her expression and connection with the camera worked well. When you have distracting items in the background, consider getting up high (you can simply stand on your tip toes or use a step ladder) and shoot down to remove the distracting elements from the frame.

outdoor picture of girl looking at camera in a blue dress by Jennifer Lappe

What if the location or the light isn’t perfect for your photos? Can they still be interesting; can they still tell a story just as well? I think so!