A lack of good natural light is something that occupies the minds of photographers with more regularity than we care to admit (except to other photographers!).
And that truth is felt most keenly with indoor lifestyle photography. Why? Because we can’t control the location and therefore, the light. Every lifestyle photographer knows the fear that comes with each booking, as we worry “will their home have enough light”? Followed up with visions of crap photos and universal scorn! (or is that just me? 😆 )
Lauren Kennedy is a Click Love Grow Enthusiast course grad and lifestyle family photographer. At a lifestyle newborn session early in her career, she was faced with the most light challenged home she’d encountered to date.
But rather than curl into the fetal position, she embraced the situation as a challenge and a learning opportunity. And the resulting images are a credit to her skills and her determination to create art regardless of the conditions.
Lauren approached the session in a way that ensured she got beautifully exposed shots and variety. So if you’ve ever struggled to capture beautiful photos in a low light situation, read on…
When my daughter Evie was born, it awoke the budding photographer within me as I now had a muse.
Before I had my son Harry 18 months later, my husband bought me my first DSLR. I enrolled in the CLG Enthusiast Photography Course, which was exactly what I needed to finally start using my camera properly. It was the beginning of producing the work I strived toward.
Shooting in manual mode is the natural first step when learning photography. Without that skill you simply can’t deal with challenging light situations.
Related: Getting out of Auto
Your priority in a low light lifestyle session is:
Luckily for me, although this house had barely any natural light other than one set of French doors (all other windows were narrow and high), it had been beautifully renovated so I didn’t need to worry too much about what else was around or could be seen.
Look around windows and doorways as these will be the best lit areas in any home, no matter how dark the interior.
If the windows aren’t offering any joy, open up the front door, and prop everyone in the hall. You could try sitting them on the floor, backs against the wall, not too far from the open door way, and shoot with the open door behind you.
Keep an open mind with regard to location. If the surroundings aren’t ideal in the area with the best light, rearrange the room. If you want to use a sofa that is backlit, turn it around. Remove anything that doesn’t need to be there.
Think about your angles, perspectives and framing to crop out anything that can’t be moved.
Related: Doorway Light
I loved this session for it’s moody light. When photographing in home I am always looking for the “best” natural light, but when you’re forced into a situation where there isn’t a lot, you have to work with what you have.
Embrace shadows… shadows add depth and form, mood and drama, emotion. There’s no need to attempt to eradicate them! Shadows are your friend, understand that and you’ll shake that monkey off your back!
In this specific situation, the fact that the rest of the house was dark helped to really focus and draw the viewers attention to my subject.
Clutter doesn’t necessarily mean mess. It could come in the form of the laundry being directly opposite the good light. Look for things like that and close the door.
Lifestyle photography is conducive to the objects of daily life being in the background, and it helps to tell the story of the family.
However, not everything needs to form part of the story. Move anything in the background that isn’t adding anything to the shot and is working to distract. I’m talking stray toys, this morning’s breakfast dishes, last week’s newspaper pile.
The lack of available light forced me to think more about angles, specifically high and low.
Varying your angles, framing and perspectives is a great way to get variety when locations are limited. I am always looking for new perspectives to try and there is nothing like being forced into a corner to produce them.
Without even having to move your subjects, you can get so many photos by doing this. Some ideas:
If baby’s bed is at all portable, move it to the good light. If not, perhaps they have a bassinet you can style and put in the good light. That right there is a whole new range of varied photos.
Don’t forget the small details. They’re important to the story but they’re also another easy way to get variation without needing loads of good light.
CLG Tip: A macro lens is perfect for getting in close to those small details and another great way to ensure variety.
Related: Macro Newborn
Camera: Canon 5D Mk3
Lens: Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Art
A fast lens is essential in lifestyle photography for all the times you unexpectedly encounter challenging light.
35mm is a great focal length for lifestyle photography for its ability to capture more in the frame. But it’s also a lifesaver when you find yourself trying to photograph in very small spaces.
Just because you’ve identified the best light in the house, doesn’t mean it’s great light! For that reason your gear and settings are particularly important.
CLG Tip: With regard to your settings, in low light situations you will be forced to very carefully consider your balance of settings. You will probably have to make some sacrifices so a thorough understanding the exposure triangle is crucial.
It’s well worth learning to embrace high ISO. As this session was so dark my ISO ranged from 640 right up to 2000 when in the bedroom, with the majority shot at around 1000 ISO.
They are grainier than I like to provide but I have definitely come to embrace the grain and make it work for me in my editing style.
Related: Embracing ISO
My aperture was usually around f/2 to f/2.8 but you could go even wider if you needed to.
My shutter speed was 250 which is quite slow for a family session. But as there were no older kids and the motion that goes with them, it was a safe gamble I took.
CLG Tip: If you’ve got toddlers in the mix, you’ll need a shutter speed of at least 320. If your light is such that 320 is pushing your other settings too far, try poses that minimise motion as much as possible. Sound impossible? Check out the guide below, it’s chock full of ideas for capturing a toddler with a newborn. A lot of the poses and prompts could be applied to older siblings too.
Related: Toddler & Newborn Photography Guide
My tips for photographing a lifestyle newborn session is firstly don’t get flustered. If you get flustered the baby and parents will all feel it and then become on edge as well.
There is always something to capture. Even if the baby is unsettled there are plenty of tender moments to capture of the parents calming her.
My general advice for anyone learning photography is to just keep shooting. Whether it’s your kids, pets, landscapes, daily life, friends… just practice. The more I shoot the closer I get to finding my style (as much as you can anyway as it is an ever evolving process).
Also, never be afraid to try something new. It’s a great way to learn, and there is always something to learn in photography, whether it be a technical camera setting, light, posing, or creating connections to capture.
Related: Lifestyle Newborn Photography Guide
Many thanks to Lauren for her generous tips and stunning photos! If you have low light indoors, or you’re faced with it at another location, give these tips a go and let us know how you go in the comments!
Lauren is a family photographer based in Sydney, Australia. Check her out over at at Lauren Kennedy Photographer.