FAQ: finding natural light when shooting inside

One of the most common questions I get asked by other photographers is how in the world I do so many of my sessions in my clients homes when I am primarily a natural light photographer. Homes, especially some bedrooms, can be so SO dark that it can be tricky to get a good shot especially if you’re used to shooting outside. It took me a while to get used to shooting in peoples homes, and now its probably my favorite place to do a session if the kids are little. They’re comfortable first and foremost, its easy to grab new toys, snacks, a change of clothes.. whatever is necessary when you’re photographing little ones!

There is always natural light to be found, even if it means rearranging the room a little bit to find it! Its worth it to get creative and get shots of them actually being a FAMILY in their home, even if you have to bump your ISO up and your pictures end up a little bit grainy. When you’re photographing kids your main focus can’t be getting them to look one way or another. You as the photographer come in and if necessary manipulate the room a little bit to get them in the best light you can while still keeping it natural. Even the tiniest bit of natural light coming from the window is helpful, and even if its not the prettiest room in the house you can make it work, i promise! :0)

I try reeeeeeally hard to never use flash when I’m in someones home. Well, i try really hard to never have to use flash, but at wedding receptions thats not always an option ;0)  I will try and do the session during the middle of the day or early morning, whenever the family has the most natural light flowing into their home. If I’m scheduling a session outside, I never shoot in the middle of the day, but I’ve found that mid morning through early afternoon tends to be a great time to do a session inside. If I have the option, I will always try and put them in front of a window. I’ll keep the window behind me, making sure i’m positioning myself to not block any light from their faces, and photograph them there. I’ve been known to rearrange the room a little bit to make this happen, and my clients are wonderful and never seem to mind! So if you see a good spot where there’s lots of natural light, ask if you can slide the couch or chair around a little so that they’re able to sit there!

This first shot from Jack’s two year session has them directly in front of the window. The window is directly behind me and I was able to use the 24mm 1.4 lens and get this nice wide shot which is still one of my all time favorites :0) By the end of Juliana’s session there was almost NO natural light coming in the room anymore and it was WAY too cold to be outside. I put the flash on to get just a few more, but then she just so happened to walk right over the window to see what was going on outside! Sometimes you can encourage them to peek out the window, and snap a few shots quick before the realize there’s nothing exciting out there ;0) For Kayley’s 9 month pictures we literally stayed in the living room the entire time. One wall was almost all windows and gave us lots of natural light, so I just encourage her mom and dad to stand on that side of the room, so as they’re trying to get Kayley to laugh she’s facing them AND the window, and i end up with the light on her face just like i want it :0) If there’s no way to get your subject directly in front of the window, always position them so that their face is what gets the most light. You can tell the window/light in this picture is coming from the right side of the room, almost at a 90 degree angle. If I had put Kayley facing the other way on the dresser, the top of her head would be what was in the light the most, where as here she’s angled just right so that the light will hit her face. If you really don’t have any great options to be in front of a window, throw open the front door and use that! I left the screen door closed, but had the main one open and asked Amanda to stand right in front of it. Can you tell they’re in the hallway? Not really, all you see is a pretty mama and baby… black and white can also help disguise a busy background if necessary! Same thing with this one from Natalie’s newborn session; i just threw open the door and had Elizabeth hold Natalie right in front of it. Its not always about the prettiest/nicest background for your picture, its more about making sure you can see your subjects clearly and catch the emotion. Use what they have there, and during the summer I’ve even done shots like this where they were in the garage! a tight crop and a little black and white action and you’ve got a great picture, great lighting, and no one would ever know it was taken in a setting you didn’t love! I always ALWAYS do the newborn session in their home. I’m coming to do the session typically within that first week, and at that point no one is up for venturing out of the house anyway. Its way easier for the babies (and the parents!) to be able to stay in their home so they’re able to feed and change the baby as necessary. With Jackson and Charlie Claire’s newborn session , there was one main window in the nursery, and the big chair was sitting in front of it facing the opposite way. They were more than happy to move the chair around some so that it faced towards the window, and we did most of their pictures right there! Don’t be afraid to ask your clients to rearrange things (within reason) and always make sure you help put it back how it was when you got there!
again, is this the prettiest backdrop? not at all, but its also not that distracting… your focus is on the four of them! i had them stand almost exactly where that chair had been and face the window and the result is another one of my all time favorites! if all else fails and you absolutely cannot convince your clients to shoot in their own home, see if there is a grandma near by or family friend who would let us use their home! With kids under 2 years old, from December-February you really can’t go outside here just because within 5 minutes you’ve got red cheeks and drippy noses! Kayley’s 9 month session was done at her grandparents house, but again the key there is to pick a place that they are already comfortable! Same thing with Ben’s 1 year pictures, we just took a little trip over to his grandma’s house and hung out there for an hour or so! This picture is actually taken in their music room/sun room, but you’d never be able to tell by this picture! :0) but always keep in mind, when you’re photographing kids sometimes you just can’t worry about staging anything, you just have to catch things as they happen! This is another one of my favorite pictures, because it happened when I wasn’t even looking. I was busy photographing his little brother Bennett and I turned around and saw what was happening behind me. I would have never said “aww! quick come sit over here and keep doing just that, the light is just better over here!” no way!! you have to know your camera well enough to change your settings around quick and get the shot before the moment you want to capture is over.
Hopefully that was helpful to some of you! let me know if there are any FAQ posts you’re interested in seeing here in the future! happy wednesday :0)

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  1. Brittany says:

    Thanks Jessie for such a great post. I’m constanly trying to remember to focus on lighting, so this is perfect. I also tend to up with couches pushed up against big windows and blown out backgrounds. I need to remember to switch things around. Loving all your FAQ posts!

  2. beverly says:

    i cant get over these!!! love your talent with children!! such a gift!!

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