A PHOTOGRAPHY TUTORIAL BY SARAH KELLER
Hello photo-taking parents! I’m excited to write about one of my all-time favorite topics; how to take better indoor photos of your children. As a stay at home mom with four young kids, we take a lot of photos inside our home because naturally that’s where we spend most of our time. Indoor photography can be challenging though. For those of you who love photographing your children but are struggling to capture pictures that you really love, this is for you!
Lilah pulling her bonnet off, Silas helping Lilah get dressed, Finn’s first experiment with underwear + his beloved blanket, and nap-time rebellions;
Also worth noting; improving your indoor photo-taking skills does not require an expensive camera or a picturesque home. Those things help, yes. But lets be honest, a lot of our favorite photos are taken with our smart phones these days. And as far as our house goes…well, we are currently living in a very small, very basic, no frills duplex. But the good news is that beautiful photos are possible just about anywhere where the light is right! In fact, some of my all-time favorite indoor photos of my kids have been taken in a gaudy hotel room. I’ll share them below, as well as some foundational techniques for how to take better indoor photos of your home that work anywhere, with just about any kind of camera.
Natural light is priority no.1. This is what will make or break your photos. Think about the windows in your home; which ones get the best sunlight, and at what time of day? Light-filled spaces are the most important factor in great photos. Never rely on a flash or lamp light, those are photo-killers. So, if your most light-filled windows happen to be in a space that you don’t use much, consider making a small reading nook or play area with a few things geared for you–like a comfortable chair and a small side table–and a few things for the kids, like a basket of small toys or books. The kids will naturally gravitate to an inviting, fun space, and this will make plenty of opportunities for candid but beautiful photos. The photo above shows Lilah looking out of a light-filled window where we keep her highchair in the kitchen.
DON’T FORGET TO
1. Turn off ALL of your lamps and overhead lighting before you start photographing! Set your camera to no-flash if it’s going to automatically go off.
2. You need soft, somewhat filtered sunlight. If the sunlight is too bright or direct, hang a sheer curtain panel to filter it.
3. If the sunlight is too dim, make sure your shades are all the way open and your curtains are not blocking any part of the window.
4. Make sure the sunlight is hitting the face of your subject, otherwise his/her back will be lit, but not the face!
This example shows two photos taken in front of a window on a cloudy day with soft, natural light. In the first photo, Lilah’s back is to the window, so her face is dark. I turned her around so that her face was turned toward the window, and it produced a much better photo. Shadowy pictures aren’t always bad (as you’ll see below), but generally you want plenty of light on your subject’s face.
TIP– If you’re using an Iphone, hold down on the face/focal point of the photo you’re taking so that you will get a clear, crisp picture.
GET DOWN ON THEIR LEVEL
To best capture the the organic life of your kids–their facial expressions, the way they play, and the intimacy of these moments–get down on their level. Avoid aiming your camera “down”, instead, kneel so that your camera is looking “straight” at them. This works wonders with interior photos in general, the lower you get, the larger the space will look. (The exception to this is if you’re trying to capture a fully “aerial view” photo, like a child sleeping in a crib or other similar scenario.)
OBSERVE YOUR KIDS
What are their personalities? Their habits, their quarks, their favorite toy or blanket? Keep your camera close and ready every day, and always be mindful of some of the cute memories you want to capture. If it means you have to recreate a cute scene that you want to capture, do it!
For example, here’s Asher wiggling his lose tooth, Silas after getting his hair brushed (he despises his fro, hahaha), and Lilah climbing the dishwasher like it’s her job;
CLEAR OUT THE CLUTTER + CREATE FUN, PHOTOGENIC SPACES
Let me just make this clear; we have four small children and we live in a very small house. We are packed in like sardines and there is ALWAYS clutter. But when I’m in the mood to take some photos, I do a quick clean-up of the room we’re in. There’s nothing that irks me more than noticing clutter in the background of my photos. Sometimes it’s as small as a wire, an odd shoe, a little piece of trash on the floor, or a toy peeking out from under the couch. Minimize this as much as possible. You want your child to be the star of the photo, not the distracting cord or pile of laundry in the background!
Also, if you make them a new and fun space with a few small toys or if you have them help you make something enticing in the kitchen, they will usually sit still long enough for a few non-blurry photos.
Just a few ideas–pick a light-filled space to set up a favorite toy, get them helping near a window in the kitchen, or capture their reflection in a mirror;
“FRAME” YOUR PHOTOS BEFORE YOU CLICK
Don’t rely on cropping after the photo has been taken. Instead, train your eye to look at the entire composition of your photo before you snap it. You’re obviously going to look at your subject, but don’t stop there! What is in the background? Again, is there any clutter? Are there any large or bright colored or distracting objects that will take the focus away from your subject? Aim for your backgrounds to be as neutral as possible.
One personal note; if I’m not happy with my indoor photography on a consistent basis, that’s a sign that I need to figure out what to do a little differently that brings new life to our space. Usually it’s as simple as re-arranging some furniture.
KEEP YOUR EDITING MINIMAL
There are so many great photo editing programs available these days! Whether I’m using Photoshop or a free app like Instagram or Snapseed, my rule is this; keep it simple. Almost all great photos are edited, but they shouldn’t look edited.
STICK TO SIMPLE EDITS LIKE
1. Increase the brightness, minimally.
2. Increase the contrast/shadows, minimally–just enough to add depth.
3. If the photo looks predominantly yellow, lower the “warmth” or “saturation”. Conversely, if it looks too blue, increase the warmth/saturation.
4. Some editing software has “Selective” editing, which is pure gold! I do this manually in Photoshop, but Snapseed, for instance, allows you to select the face (or any other part of the photo), and just edit that small section. This allows you to choose the focal point and then direct the viewer’s eye to that point, creating a more traditional “portrait” style photo.
TIP– For cleaner, less processed looking photos, avoid using the standard photo filters that come in editing apps.
PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE
As with all things, the key to taking great photos is to PRACTICE! I’ve been at this for six years now, through all kinds of different homes and phases of life. There are always challenges. Some spaces don’t get much natural light. Some spaces are very small and difficult to work in. Sometimes you’re renting a home with a really bad paint color. Sometimes–if you move a lot like we do–you find yourself in a hotel or living out of a suitcase for months at a time. It’s hard to be a photographer or a painter or a creative of any kind when you’re constantly moving and your home space is constantly changing, because it takes time to learn your home and how to photograph well inside of it. But don’t let your circumstances discourage you! Challenges can be opportunities if they force you to improvise, get creative, and experiment.
Some of my photos break the rule I mentioned above regarding too much shadow on the kids’ faces. It’s always tempting to brighten shadowy photos, but as long as there is a clear source of natural light don’t be afraid to let the shadows remain for a beautiful, moody look;
Take advantage of pretty seasonal “props” and–if you have a baby–costumes are always a fun idea (the squirrel tail…haha!).
Bread making day;
Fifteen months old and finally standing in her crib;
The hotel photos I mentioned above, some of my all-time favorites despite the fact that they were taken in a totally ugly orange and maroon colored hotel room that we lived in for two months during one of our moves. What makes them is the great natural light!
HAVE FUN & KEEP AT IT
Good photography is not a science….even seasoned photographers don’t always get perfect photos. (There are days when I take a whole batch of what I think will be beautiful pictures and I don’t like a single one!) Some of the best photos are the totally spontaneous, goofy, cluttered, Batman-tee adorned kind that testify to normal life. If you find yourself in a rut, don’t get discouraged. Seek out helpful tips and keeping working at it; before you know it you’ll have a method + style for your work that’s all your own, not to mention a beautiful collection of photos that you’ll cherish for years!
Thank you! Please send questions if you have them, and tell me what other related topics you’d to explore!