Does the idea of photographing an indoor natural light session send you into a cold sweat? Will the house have good enough windows? Will there be too many distractions with decor and clutter to photograph a scene effectively? How will you be able to capture “real life” in the confines of an unfamiliar environment?

Photographing indoors, at least when you’re first starting out, can be frustrating.  Light is generally less abundant. Instead of golden sunsets you may have to contend with color casts and clutter.

But there are far more reasons to love in-home lifestyle sessions than fear them. Inside those walls are memories, love, and comfort that you can’t find anywhere else. With a little preparation, you can make any home work for your next session.

Find and use the light

“…above all, know light.  Know it for all you are worth, and you will know the key to photography” – George Eastman 

As with everything in photography, it all begins with light. But what is the best light?  Do we even know what “good” light is?

You might think a room flooded with windows and light from all angles will give you freedom with your camera. In reality, non-directional light often produces less desirable results.

Instead, think about your vision and then find the right light to enhance that. Are you going for moody and dramatic?  Do you want to create soft flattering portraits?  Are you trying to make something unusual?  Do you need to capture one individual or many?

When you look for light sources consider the direction, quality, and intensity of the light.  Think about the mood any given light will create.

Direction

Take time to position your subjects so that the direction of the light is flattering. Check for catchlights in eyes. Look at how the shadows fall over your subjects’ features. Don’t hesitate to move or rotate people so that the direction of the light works!

Quality

Is the light is hard or soft? High contrast and defined shadows characterize hard light. Soft light is more even with smoother transitions between light and shadow. Both can be “good” light, but both will create drastically different results. Make sure that the light matches the mood of the image.

Intensity

Intensity simply refers to how bright the light is.  Remember that our eye is drawn to the brightest part of any image. Moving your subject closer to and further from the light will affect its intensity.

Feeling lost when searching for good light? Here are some ways to find and modify the light that will be available in any home.

Diffuse light pouring through a large window. Diffused light creates softer shadows and minimizes texture. It’s particularly flattering when you’re trying to diminish wrinkles and blemishes.

This is also helpful when creating evenly-lit group portraits. With the addition of a scrim, sheer curtain, or even a thin white sheet, harsh sun pouring through a window can can become soft and glowing.

Locate a directional light source. Directional light is ideal for creating more dramatic side lit portraits with depth and dimension. This kind of light can feel moody and introspective. It creates beautiful depth and shadows, allowing your subjects to feel more three dimensional.

Utilize pockets of interesting light and shadow.  Don’t shy away from dappled light! While not likely to be used for traditional portraits, interesting light patterns can make for great variety in a lifestyle session.  This is your opportunity to experiment and create images with emotional range.

When you do find the light you love, know how to use it! Play with moving your subject nearer to and farther from the windows. Use the Inverse Square Law to hide the clutter in the shadows. Don’t be afraid to boost your ISO.

More than anything, practice, practice, practice! As you learn how to harness indoor light, keep a light journal at home. Note how light changes throughout the day (and through the year) in the same spaces. What are the characteristics of that light at each time of day and how could you use it? Paying attention to these things in your own home will better prepare you to utilize the available light in others’ homes.

Keep your subjects comfortable

Few things can derail a session quicker than your subject’s unwillingness to participate!

It is rare that you find someone who loves having his or her photo taken. Most adults feel self conscious and nervous. And oftentimes kids would rather be playing than be performing for the camera.

Whether you’re photographing paying clients or your own family, making your subjects comfortable is key to getting the photographs that you want.

Be you. Kids especially can detect a phony from a mile away. Be yourself and your subjects will be more likely to be themselves. 

Encourage conversation. Not only will this distract from the discomfort of being in front of the camera, but it will encourage authentic expressions that are perfect for photographs.

Mirror what you want to see from your subjects. The people in front of your camera will reflect the energy you put out.  If you want high energy from them you have to offer it.  If you want a quiet, reflective mood use a lowered voice and give gentle directions.

Even if you don’t pose your subjects it’s still important to guide them. Give them prompts and ALWAYS provide encouragement and reassurance.  Phrases like “that looks great,” “that’s perfect,” “It was good when you did XYZ…” give your subjects confidence and will help them to relax.

Put the camera down as necessary. It’s ok to put the camera down and play for a bit to break the ice or shift gears. Taking a few minutes to breathe can buy you significantly more time to shoot in the long run.

If your own kid has “photographer’s child syndrome” (believe me we’ve all been there!) the most important thing you can do is remember that this is meant to be fun! Keep your shooting time short and keep playing after you’ve put the camera down. This communicates that you enjoy your child and aren’t only there to play when you get a picture out of it.

must haves

OUR INDOOR PHOTOGRAPHY ESSENTIALS

Profoto A1

Sometimes you find yourself in a shooting location with zero light. Don’t let panic take over! Having a tool like the Profoto A1 will allow you to create beautiful light. Use it on or off-camera with the included modifiers or bounced off a wall and you will be able to make any space work for you.

24-70mm zoom lens

Having a versatile lens is key to success in fast paced lifestyle sessions. The 24-70 will give you wide angle context shots and beautiful close-up portraits without having to waste time swapping lenses. Even better, the fixed aperture lets you shoot in lower light situations without sacrificing ISO and the Vibration Reduction allows you to shoot at slower shutter speeds without missing focus.

A full frame DSLR

A full frame DSLR will allow you to shoot in lower light situations with better performance. The Canon Mark IV (pictured here) is known for its superb ability to shoot with a high ISO with minimal grain…key for those in-home sessions where the light might not be in abundance.

Create technically sound images

So you’ve found your light and your subjects look perfect. How do you create technically sound images with changing light, moving kids, and background chaos?

In my experience, it comes down to two main things:

Nail exposure in-camera

Are you afraid to push your ISO because you’re worried about noise? You are more likely to introduce that grain when you increase brightness in post. Instead, raise your ISO and ensure correct exposure in camera.

Learn to understand your histogram. Look for spikes that show shadow clipping or blown highlights. Also learn what well-exposed mid-tones look like. I can’t recommend Sarah Wilkerson’s Flawless e-learning resource enough for this.

Take a moment to slow down and check your settings when you move from one set up to another.  Make sure that you are properly exposed to get the best quality photos possible.

Use a proper shutter speed

Wondering why your images look blurry? It could very well be that your shutter speed is too slow.

So many photographers underestimate shutter speed requirements. While 1/25 second may seem fast, it’s quite slow when you have wiggly kids in front of the camera. Adjust your ISO and aperture so that you can keep your shutter speed nice and fast while maintaining proper exposure.

As a general rule I stay above 1/250 of a second when working with kids. Even a good laugh is enough to get lots of blur at a slower shutter speed. I increase to at least 1/500th if they’re running and a minimum of 1/800th if they’re jumping on the bed.

Work to achieve variety

How do you achieve variety from an in home session? There are only so many rooms and even fewer places that feel photo-worthy!

Don’t you worry. There are plenty of ways to get lots of variety indoors.

Use various lenses and/or focal lengths

Having a range of lenses and focal lengths is ideal. This can be in the form of a zoom lens or having a few lenses ranging from wide angle to telephoto in your bag. This will allow you to get beautiful portraits alongside photos with lots of context. You won’t need to move a bit to get drastically different views in the same location.

Shoot in various rooms

Visit as many rooms in the house as possible, even if it’s only for one shot. Don’t discount a room because it’s not suitable for portraits or group shots. Sometimes there will be an amazing patch of dappled light on the kitchen floor or a cool spot on a window ledge. Take advantage of that light and add range to your session.

I’ve shot in bathrooms, kitchens, stairwells, garages…you name it! Be light led and see where it takes you!

Change your perspective

Don’t feel as though you must shoot everything front-on.  Take a 360-degree approach to shooting your subject. Get down low, climb on a chair, shoot from the side and from behind. All of this will add desirable variety to your session.

Compose around clutter…or make use of it!

Lived-in houses are full of stuff! This can make it hard to achieve the minimalist vision you might have in mind.

Remember, however, that no matter how this home looks, it is home to the people who live there. You can move furniture or tidy toys to get a less-cluttered shot, but sometimes keeping those things in the frame tells a much better story.

So don’t panic when you are tasked with shooting indoors! With these tips you will be set for success and will be well on your way to creating images that you and the people in front of your camera adore.