How to take photos around the clutter in your home

  • taking beautiful photographs in cluttered, boring spaces tutorial by Australian photographer 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.

taking beautiful photographs in cluttered, boring spaces tutorial by Australian photographer Narelle Bailey

taking beautiful photographs in cluttered, boring spaces tutorial by Australian photographer Narelle Bailey

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.

taking beautiful photographs in cluttered, boring spaces tutorial by Australian photographer Narelle Bailey

taking beautiful photographs in cluttered, boring spaces tutorial by Australian photographer Narelle Bailey

taking beautiful photographs in cluttered, boring spaces tutorial by Australian photographer Narelle Bailey

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.

taking beautiful photographs in cluttered, boring spaces tutorial by Australian photographer Narelle Bailey


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.

taking beautiful photographs in cluttered, boring spaces tutorial by Australian photographer Narelle Bailey


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

taking beautiful photographs in cluttered, boring spaces tutorial by Australian photographer Narelle Bailey

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.

taking beautiful photographs in cluttered, boring spaces tutorial by Australian photographer Narelle Bailey

Let’s go outside.

I am always on the lookout for interesting shadows.

taking beautiful photographs in cluttered, boring spaces tutorial by Australian photographer Narelle Bailey

taking beautiful photographs in cluttered, boring spaces tutorial by Australian photographer Narelle Bailey

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

taking beautiful photographs in cluttered, boring spaces tutorial by Australian photographer Narelle Bailey

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.

taking beautiful photographs in cluttered, boring spaces tutorial by Australian photographer Narelle Bailey

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.


About the Author:

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.


  1. Michelle Feb 05 2013 at 11:27 am - Reply

    Love this! Thank you!

  2. Jenny Feb 05 2013 at 11:43 am - Reply

    that’s awesome. My place is very cluttered, but now I think I can find a place to do my thing without showing it all 😛

  3. Martha Sachser Feb 05 2013 at 11:47 am - Reply

    Thank you for posting!

  4. Carol D Feb 05 2013 at 11:54 am - Reply

    Great ideas!

  5. Rebecca Feb 05 2013 at 11:55 am - Reply

    I have thought this so many times! I so appreciate this post.

    Your photographs are beautiful.

  6. Monica H. Feb 05 2013 at 11:56 am - Reply

    Thank you for this! Now to go and find the light!!

  7. Yvonne Feb 05 2013 at 12:04 pm - Reply

    Very inspiring! Love the photos!

  8. Kathy Weeks Feb 05 2013 at 12:05 pm - Reply

    Thank you so much! That post was incredibly helpful!!

  9. Meredith Feb 05 2013 at 12:06 pm - Reply

    Love this–what a great reminder. the last shot of your daughter is stunning!

  10. Jen Conley Feb 05 2013 at 12:10 pm - Reply

    Wonderful post!!! I’m doing a 365 project this year and I’m discovering that my everyday surroundings can still yield interesting and clean images. A couple of friends who have been following my project have commented to me that I must really have a clean house all the time and do tons of ‘interesting’ things everyday…but in reality it’s more about looking at my surroundings and everyday routine in a different way.

  11. sarah carlson Feb 05 2013 at 12:19 pm - Reply

    I hoped you would turn this into a blog post! Excellent tutorial, Narelle! 🙂

  12. Amy H. Feb 05 2013 at 12:19 pm - Reply

    Love this! So very, very true!

  13. mommaceleste (Celeste Pav) Feb 05 2013 at 12:21 pm - Reply

    Gorgeous photos and so informative Narelle! I love your work so much. Thanks for sharing with all of us today!

  14. Ashleigh Feb 05 2013 at 12:32 pm - Reply

    Fantastic! Love your images and I loved reading this! I am trying to achieve simple focus on my subject as well and this was a great tutorial on it 🙂

  15. Melanie Feb 05 2013 at 12:38 pm - Reply

    I needed this reminder that my home doesn’t need to look like it is out of a magazine to create beautiful photographs!!! Thank you!

  16. Michelle Feb 05 2013 at 12:43 pm - Reply

    Wow, thanks so much for this. I totally feel like I can’t use my house sometimes. This was a huge encouragement. Your work is stunning.

  17. Hannah Feb 05 2013 at 12:57 pm - Reply

    This was really eye opening for me. I have been discouraged lately by my lack of Pinterest proclivities and space in my house but now I see that I can take some really great photos regardless of what I’m working with. I will have to practice more and see what I can come up with with what I have. Thanks for the inspiration!

  18. Christine Feb 05 2013 at 1:06 pm - Reply

    Love this post! Beautiful photos!

  19. Jen Feb 05 2013 at 1:12 pm - Reply

    Oh my gosh! You are SO talented! I love every single shot. I also love this post, because I think I get caught up in thinking I don’t have any beautiful surroundings to shoot in (especially in this blah winter weather – gray skies and no color anywhere). This post shows that beauty can be found anywhere. Thank you!

  20. Rachel Feb 05 2013 at 1:30 pm - Reply

    Love this article!!!! So true and a good reminder on finding the lights and focusing on your subject:)

  21. Gina Feb 05 2013 at 1:35 pm - Reply

    Love this article. I always tell my clients that what matters is light. The fence photo is really cool.

  22. Gina Feb 05 2013 at 1:36 pm - Reply

    I meant gate

  23. Hi Narelle – this is a great post – I have the same issues (you know, having a real home/mess/toys….) You use some beautiful backlighting – how do you manage to get the correct exposure on their faces? Is it just great metering, or do you use flash?

    • Narelle Bailey Feb 06 2013 at 5:44 am - Reply

      Thanks Kate! I mostly spot meter off the face and use natural light. I do own a Speedlight, but haven’t played around with it much yet. I don’t usually worry too much if the background is blown if the subject is well exposed. There may be situations where I want more detail in the background so I try to balance by underexposing a little and adjust in post processing. However, I really do prefer to have the actual subject well exposed. I also shoot in RAW. 🙂

  24. Angela Feb 05 2013 at 1:44 pm - Reply

    Narelle, this is brilliant! thank you so much! LOVE your images 🙂

  25. Jennifer Feb 05 2013 at 2:01 pm - Reply

    wow, great photos and pullbacks. I really appreciate the thought behind it all. I have a lot more space and windows and I can’t seem to make my photos look uncluttered. Clearly I need to regroup and re-examine! 🙂

  26. Julie Feb 05 2013 at 2:03 pm - Reply

    Love your captures! Your tutorial is excellent inspiration 🙂 Can you tell us what equipment you use? Especially interested in the lenses you use.

    • Narelle Bailey Feb 06 2013 at 5:48 am - Reply

      Thanks Julie! You may be surprised to know that I don’t really use anything super fancy. I shoot with a D700 and use a basic 50mm 1.8 lens. I do own a 35-70mm 2.8 which I play around with about 2% of the time for fun, but I always go back to my trusty 50mm as I find it to be sharper.

  27. Maureen Petru Feb 05 2013 at 2:12 pm - Reply

    Thank you, thank you for this post. Just what I needed right when I needed it. Fantastic! And what a beautiful eye you have, I loved every image!

  28. Sue - The Spin Cycle Feb 05 2013 at 2:13 pm - Reply

    This is so incredibly inspiring. Thank you for the sage photog. tips…and for the affirmation that I can keep my house as messy as I flippin’ well please.

  29. Carito Feb 05 2013 at 2:32 pm - Reply

    Great post and beautiful images! I’m already mentally going through our house making a list of spaces to discover, thanks to you,

  30. Shanekia R Feb 05 2013 at 3:15 pm - Reply

    Such a great post. I’m doing a Project 365 and this was very inspiring!

  31. Melissa Stottmann Feb 05 2013 at 4:02 pm - Reply

    Loved reading your post Narelle! Great information here <3

  32. Claire Bunn Feb 05 2013 at 4:06 pm - Reply

    Such a great article. The pullbacks really do teach you a lot. Thank you for the friendly reminder since most people don’t live in an ideal shooting environment.

  33. Kara Zollos Feb 05 2013 at 4:47 pm - Reply

    Love love love that you did this! <3 Wonderful tutorial to see and to realize that you don't need a Better Homes & Gardens house to take great images. Thanks so much! 🙂

  34. Katrina Stewart Feb 05 2013 at 5:02 pm - Reply

    Narelle, I LOVE THIS ARTICLE. So inspiring. Thanks for this.

  35. lisacng @ Feb 05 2013 at 5:20 pm - Reply

    Thanks for reminding me that great photos don’t need to be taken in great/perfect locations.

  36. Vaune Feb 05 2013 at 5:56 pm - Reply

    I loved this thread, and this post offers even more inspiration! So inspiring – I can LIVE in my house and take photos there too.

  37. Julie Feb 05 2013 at 6:34 pm - Reply

    Love this! Thanks for sharing, very inspiring. Beautiful photos.

  38. Lori Feb 05 2013 at 8:00 pm - Reply

    This was truly amazing. Thank you so much for sharing!!!!

  39. Allison Jacobs Feb 05 2013 at 9:00 pm - Reply

    Loved seeing all your locations + the final image! So inspiring!!!

  40. Anna C. Feb 05 2013 at 10:27 pm - Reply

    These are really great ideas! <3

  41. Heather Feb 06 2013 at 2:48 am - Reply

    I love seeing all your pullbacks. Thanks for sharing, Narelle. Beautiful images, as always!

  42. Narelle Bailey Feb 06 2013 at 5:52 am - Reply

    Thank-you all so much for you kind words! I am really glad this has been helpful.

  43. Nadia Feb 06 2013 at 7:33 am - Reply

    Thank you for such a great article! I often think other photographers have such beautiful, clean and clutter free homes. I am still baffled on how your images came out so free from clutter but the pullbacks really do help.

  44. christina Feb 06 2013 at 9:34 am - Reply

    Narelle! This was fantastic –great pull backs and beautiful images. <3 Thank you for sharing and inspiring 🙂

  45. Ann Feb 06 2013 at 11:17 am - Reply

    This is a fantastic post! Thanks for the great reminder to find the light. Gorgeous images!!

  46. Melissa Feb 06 2013 at 3:59 pm - Reply

    Wonderful, wonderful post, Narelle!!! It’s so amazing to see pullbacks of your lovely work. Very interesting and helpful! 🙂

  47. Jo Feb 06 2013 at 4:20 pm - Reply

    Beautiful post Narelle! I especially love the advice to find the light first. Once I realized that myself, I was amazed at what I found! <3

  48. Jodi Feb 06 2013 at 4:28 pm - Reply

    narelle, these are fantastic! i want to go on a hunt for unexpected places around my house right now! thanks for these great tips and real examples!

  49. Lacey Feb 06 2013 at 7:58 pm - Reply

    This is amazing, Narelle! Thank you so much for sharing … these are very inspirational!

  50. Marisa Feb 07 2013 at 12:18 am - Reply

    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.

  51. kasey Feb 07 2013 at 12:55 am - Reply

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

  52. Kim Feb 07 2013 at 6:50 am - Reply

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

  53. Lisa Feb 07 2013 at 9:42 am - Reply

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

  54. Chelsi Feb 07 2013 at 5:26 pm - Reply

    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 🙂

  55. Mia Feb 07 2013 at 8:38 pm - Reply

    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!

  56. jane button Feb 08 2013 at 2:15 pm - Reply

    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 🙂

  57. Amy Feb 08 2013 at 4:38 pm - Reply

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

  58. jana Feb 08 2013 at 5:49 pm - Reply

    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.

  59. michelle Feb 08 2013 at 8:41 pm - Reply

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

  60. Syreeta Feb 10 2013 at 8:38 am - Reply

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

  61. Donna L Feb 12 2013 at 5:53 am - Reply

    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 🙂

  62. Jane dP Feb 13 2013 at 4:10 am - Reply

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

  63. Ana Feb 14 2013 at 9:26 pm - Reply

    Fantastic! Love the pull-backs. Thanks!

  64. Sara Feb 14 2013 at 10:25 pm - Reply

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

  65. Melanie Feb 16 2013 at 7:32 pm - Reply

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

  66. LeAnne Feb 22 2013 at 2:54 pm - Reply

    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.

  67. Jessica Allison Feb 25 2013 at 1:08 pm - Reply

    This was awesome! Thank you!

  68. Erin Mar 03 2013 at 12:32 am - Reply

    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.


  69. Samantha Mar 19 2013 at 3:19 pm - Reply

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

  70. Barbara P. Apr 12 2013 at 7:13 pm - Reply

    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.

  71. Aino Apr 20 2013 at 4:24 am - Reply

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

  72. CJ Olson Apr 21 2013 at 8:51 am - Reply

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

  73. Kerrilee Dec 29 2013 at 11:24 pm - Reply

    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!

  74. mara Dec 29 2013 at 11:42 pm - Reply

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

  75. Nia Dec 30 2013 at 12:39 am - Reply

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

  76. Michelle E Simon Dec 30 2013 at 10:05 am - Reply

    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.

  77. Julie Dec 30 2013 at 11:20 am - Reply

    This was great! Thank you for sharing!!

  78. Ali Smith Aug 18 2014 at 1:09 pm - Reply

    GREAT tutorial. SOOO needed right now!

  79. sarah singleton Jan 30 2015 at 6:49 pm - Reply

    I needed this post. I feel like we have way too much going on in our house for me to compose a thoughtful shot, sometimes. But we are also cooped up in a small apartment right now, so we really don’t have a lot of room. I’m going to try harder though. Thank you for this post!

  80. Sabrina Feb 23 2015 at 12:58 pm - Reply

    I know this is an old article but I can’t like it enough! This has been the number one reason I hate photographing in my apartment. It’s small and cluttered. Now I see that I can still achieve that quality despite the setback. Thank you!

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