At Home Portraits – Don’t Get Stuck In A Plain Wall Rut!
Many of us first become interested in photography because we want to record all those gorgeous memories of our family life at home. Plus we are usually at home! But it can be easy to get stuck in a rut composing our photos against a plain wall when indoors. I can help you with some alternative ideas for more fun and versatile compositions around the home, to create a wider range of images.
Remember that using our home as a backdrop doesn’t necessarily equal snapshot. The key is to ensure it’s simple and uncluttered, and that there is good separation between our subject and background.
I love shooting in bedrooms because they’re a comfortable place for a subject which helps them relax, and usually there’s at least one large window to let in lovely soft light. Keep styling and colours really simple and always clear side tables to remove any clutter etc. When your subjects are little ones get down low to eye level, and if you’re shooting them without their adult family members on the bed, don’t forget safety! Always have another adult close by to ensure they don’t roll off.
Another fun thing you can do with beds is let the kids jump! Make sure it’s safe and sturdy, and you’ll need a fast shutter speed to capture that movement.
I tend to use a wide lens when photographing families on their bed, and in the case of this shot I used a 50mm f1.8 on a full frame camera, with the light source coming from a window to camera left.
Make a Fake Bed!
If your bedrooms don’t have good light in the right position and moving the bed isn’t an option, try making a fake bed! Simply use a large doona or blanket and place pillows up against the walls… so easy to create!
Funky Sofa Outdoors
Don’t let yourself be limited by where furniture is usually placed. Choose an interesting piece and move it to the good light. In this case I’ve moved it onto a deck with gorgeous light from the open shade.
A great place to find good light is in an open doorway. The light is often soft and can be gently directional depending on how you place your subject in relation to the light. Read more here about using great natural light.
Cubby houses are a fantastic option for a handful of reasons. They’re usually filled with good soft light assuming there are several windows and an open door. The timber floors and walls make a very simple and textured backdrop creating good separation. The kids are in their very own space where they will be comfortable and tend to have fun, with lots of scope of make believe in there too.
The soft light from the open shade of your front porch is an ideal place to photograph your family. Remember to keep it simple so look out for clutter and move it if necessary. The added benefit of this location is your home in the background, the place where you live, laugh and love. It’s a great memory keeper.
In this shot on their front porch a simple chair was used and a very tight framing. The light coloured weatherboards of their home blurred into insignificance by placing them a good 2m away and using a shallow aperture.
Like the front porch this will also offer the same soft light as any open shaded area. The difference with this one is the clutter in the background. In this instance I just wanted to take a quick portrait of a friend’s child, and I didn’t have the time or inclination to reorganise the entire area. So instead I used a pretty patterned sheet as a backdrop. I put a good distance between my subject and backdrop to ensure a nice fall off in focus, about 2-3 feet if possible.
Look for the open shade of a large tree, being sure to avoid dappled light on faces and distracting patches of blown highlights in the background. Alternatively wait for the softer and less directional light of the golden hours (the hours just after sunrise and just before sunset) when the sun is much lower in the sky and diffused nicely by the horizon. Place a blanket on the ground and situate your subject a good few metres minimum from a background of foliage to ensure a nice background blur and facing the open sky (the sun behind them). Or get funky and use old painted kitchen chairs or stools for your subject to sit on, or a funky sofa or armchair.
Things to consider:
Find the good light first, then move furniture and clutter to make it the perfect location. You can manipulate these things, whereas you cannot fake good light.
Clutter, we all have it… but get it out of the shot!
We want our home as backdrop to be just that…the backdrop. We don’t want our subject competing with it for attention, and we want good separation between background and subject. So aim for an aperture setting that puts only your subjects in focus, and ensures a nice drop off beyond.
When photographing your family on a bed, if you’re using a wide angle lens, make sure their legs aren’t stretched out toward you. The distortion will make their limbs appear to be abnormally long and ruin the shot. Instead ask them all to either cross their legs or curl them up around them.
Let us know in the comments where you love to take photos around your house, is there somewhere creative that we’ve missed?