When I first started my journey with photography, I was living in a 700 square foot high-rise apartment in the city with only one wall of windows.
My windowless kitchen was completely dark and living in a tiny space brought on its challenges when it came to photographing my everyday.
It was in this tiny apartment that I started and completed my first 365 photography challenge, by taking one photo every single day for a year. Not only did I learn so much about my camera skills, but I also found myself learning about how to take a small space and portray it completely different in photographs.
As I was sharing my photos through social media, I frequently got compliments on how pretty my home was and how I was so lucky to have such great light. I found myself giggling and flattered that others would think my home was so bright and inviting, as I sat with my camera in my little apartment and with the tiny little stream of natural light that I savored. More than ever, I became motivated to photograph in ways that would manipulate my small space into being something beautiful in photographs. Through the use of seeking out the natural light, using creative composition, taking the time to de-clutter or simplify, and getting creative with affordable backdrops, I learned to photograph my everyday in my tiny space.
All of the photographs and recreated pullbacks in this post were taken while I was living in my 700 square foot apartment.
1. Seek the natural light.
As is typical in most city apartments, I only had windows on one wall of my apartment. One window was in my office and there was another small window in our master bedroom. So, being a fan of natural light, I saw myself drawn to these two areas of our home when photographing. So what does this mean? This means, there was a lot of dragging furniture towards the windows when I wanted to achieve a shot. I know this sounds like a lot, but photographers will do just about anything for a great photograph, right?
I quickly noticed that the early afternoon provided really ideal natural light in my office. And even though my home office is surrounded with furniture, I was able to place our living room ottoman right in the middle of it all and photograph this backlit image in a way that simplifies the space and incorporates the natural light.
Using natural light doesn’t always mean being directly next to a window. After getting to know my apartment, I noticed that the natural window light tended to reach further into our apartment during a certain time of day. And where did it land? Well, it landed on a teeny tiny little half wall that is under our kitchen island! As less than ideal as it seems, it actually really helped me achieve some really fun photographs, such as me doing yoga!
2. Take the time to simplify the space.
Now, I am by no means saying my home has clutter; it is actually quite the opposite. I am very simplistic. But even though I lead a minimalistic lifestyle, even the simplest of objects tend to clutter a photograph and are, therefore, unnecessary. By simplifying the area you are photographing, you are also creating empty space in your photo, which will help make your space look bigger!
My nightstand is typically very minimal, with a clock, lamp and a few good books that I am trying to find the time to read. But even though it seems to be simple decor, it can be distracting to the person looking at the photograph. Instead of looking at the puppy, the viewer could be distracted by what books I am reading. By taking just a few quick seconds to clear off my nightstand and to position my camera in a way that crops out the picture frame in the upper background, I simplified this photo and, without words, placed the viewer’s focus back on the puppy. Your viewer will appreciate you taking the time to simplify the space, creating a photo that is pleasing to the eye and pinpoints an obvious subject matter.
3. Use creative composition.
Instead of physically removing items from your shot, sometimes it is easiest to do it in camera through the use of a creative crop and composition. In real life and in photographs, I like my home to be very neutral and simple and I tend to photograph that way.
To create a more neutral and simple living space in camera, I decided to play with my composition a bit in this photo of a vase of pretty bokeh lights. Instead of physically fussing with the electrical cord or worrying about lining up my shot perfectly with the lines of the dresser that the vase sits on, I made the decision to focus my composition on the top half of the subject to create a clean, neutral and simple photo that places the focus on the soft bokeh.
4. Get creative with easy backdrops.
When living in 700 square feet, I didn’t have much space to store a lot of backdrops, so I found myself getting creative with what to use. My favorite things to use as a backdrop are tabletops from Ikea, without the legs! And I use them in a variety of ways, when setting up my photographs.
In my self portrait with my coffee mug, I used this backdrop to portray a table that I was sitting at with my warm cup. With this easy backdrop setup, I was able to position my photograph around ideal natural light and, with the use of a white table top I was able to create a neutral and clean looking photograph.
I did something very similar in the star photo above, by using a neutral white tabletop backdrop to create a simple and bright photo. By setting the white tabletop on top of a dark dresser and up against a neutral wall, I was quickly able to create the elements of color that I found to be soft and light.
Even better, with the very same square tabletop, I can also set it up on its side to create a vertical backdrop! This can be really helpful if you don’t have a neutral wall to use as your background and you don’t want to paint! While my walls are a very neutral cream color, sometimes I really want to have a pure white background in my photo. For this photograph of my margarita glass, I did just that! And yes, there is a lens cap at the bottom of that glass to help perfectly position that straw! Again, anything for a perfect photo!
Another cheap and easy backdrop that I love to use is snap together flooring from a home improvement store. In my apartment, we only had cream carpet. Yes, it was nice and neutral in color but sometimes I wanted a different texture that carpet couldn’t offer. Plus, because the flooring is mobile, you can assemble it in any room as you are being mindful of natural light, making it as small or as large as you need it by adding or removing boards.
Flooring backdrops can also be really fun because there are endless style options! It’s really interesting to see how just changing up a backdrop, such as flooring, can really add a fun element to a photograph. Yes, I could have photographed this row of shoes on plain carpeting, but the wood tends to add a little more depth to this photo that contrasts nicely with the neutral shoes and helps them stand out.
5. Use everyday items as neutral backdrops.
Don’t be afraid to rearrange a little! I already admitted that I move ottomans, chairs, and tabletops towards the natural light. And I know this sounds like a bit much, but if I am going to take the time to get my camera out, I am going to also take the time to properly set up my photograph. I never want the lack of space or natural light to limit my photography.
Because having a small home also meant having limited space, I liked to primarily use everyday household objects when staging my photos to limit the number of backdrops I had to store. As I mentioned before, our kitchen was located on the inner part of our apartment and was the furthest room from a window. We had absolutely no ideal natural light, so moving things around a bit was really important. One of my favorite things to use was a wooden cutting board. By setting this cutting board on a chair to elevate it towards the natural light, I was able to capture some scrumptious blueberries from my morning trip to the market.
Even neutral everyday furniture and textiles like fabric chairs or blankets make for great backdrops and are movable. Instead of struggling with the lack of natural light in our kitchen, I quickly moved a chair near the window, placed a jar of wooden utensils on the seat of the chair, and starting clicking away! My natural cream backdrop was also neutral enough to keep the focus on the wooden utensils instead of competing for the viewer’s eye.
Living in such a small space with limited natural lighting turned out to be a game changer for my photography. It challenged me in a way that forced me to look outside of the lens and into my surroundings. It challenged me to get creative and to really think out my photographs, with a lot of trial and error! So if you live in a small space, don’t let it limit you and your photography!
By seeking out the light, learning when and where in your home the light is ideal, simplifying your space before you snap your photo, using creative composition to remove unwanted distractions, and getting creative with backdrops, photographing your everyday in a small space is easy and doable!