5 Simple Tips for Shooting Gorgeous Portraits Indoors

5-tips-shooting-indoors

Shooting outdoors is wonderful. When it’s warm. When it’s cold, or raining, things tend to be a little less awesome outside. But if you live anywhere with winter, that would mean that for half of the year you can’t shoot. Oh, what is a photographer to do??

Simple, right? Shoot indoors!

Ok, not always so simple, especially if you don’t have your own studio space. Shooting indoors comes with a whole set of challenges, and requires a bit of a different approach than shooting outdoors. But that doesn’t mean that it’s not possible! A few simple tips, and you’ll be looking forward to shooting indoors, for serious!

1. Home Is Where The Heart Is. And Awesome Images Too.

If you’re taking portraits of families or couples you should definitely consider shooting in their home. As you’ll soon discover, a location doesn’t need much—a few windows and you’re good to go! Shooting in homes is free, you won’t have strangers walking around making your subjects uncomfortable, and you don’t have to book a slot.

Those are all good things, to be certain. But what’s best about using homes is that they are a big part of your clients’ lives, and add fantastic meaning to the images. They can also provide an opportunity to have people actually *doing* things in your photos. They can play a game, read a book, make some pancakes—these kinds of activities are not only great for photos, but also let your clients feel less nervous and awkward, and just relax and have fun.

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2. Windows Are Your BFFs

You might be tired of hearing it, but we’ll never tire of saying it: window light is incredible. It’s what makes shooting indoors really fun! In practically every room you have at least one window to light your images, and every window can be used for front lighting, side lighting, or backlighting. (Hit up this article for tips on shooting with window light.)

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Windows in homes also come with really fancy light modifiers that are more commonly known as blinds! You can often control the amount and intensity of the light by fiddling with the blinds a bit.

As always, bigger windows give you more light, but don’t ignore the little ones. If there’s good light coming in through them, just bring your subjects closer, and you’ll still have enough light to create great images.

Many living rooms have multiple windows, which can give you some really fantastic results. Take your time to really experiment with the light in these cases—it takes a bit of time to find the sweet spot, but once you do you’ll have some seriously delicious light.

Generally speaking, north and south facing windows will have fantastic light all day long. But don’t discount other windows. You may be treated to some really nifty light from those as well!

3. Control The Light Sources

Often you’ll walk into a room that your clients want to shoot in, and the windows are open and all the overhead lights are on. The more light the better, right? Wrong-o. When you have both natural and artificial light going on, you’re mixing sources, and that can make it impossible to properly white balance the image. This is especially bad when both light sources are hitting your subject! So control the light sources, and stick to just one.

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Most of the time this means shutting off all the overhead lighting, and working with just the window light. And when I say all the lights, I really mean all the lights. If the light is on in the kitchen, it can still spill into the living room and affect your image!

Sometimes you might actually want to use that overhead lighting to create a different mood. No problem. Just close the windows, and work with only the artificial sources.

4. Watch Your Backgrounds

Shooting in homes is fantastic, but definitely has the challenge of busy backgrounds. You need to find the balance between showing the environment, but keeping it simple enough to maintain the focus on your subjects. Pay attention to any objects that are strongly drawing your eye away from the subjects. Sometimes you’ll need to do a bit of “redecorating” to get things just right for the image. As long as you put it back when you’re done, no biggie!

You can also balance things out by doing some portraits that show off the environment, and then some that are super simple, and all about the people. This is really easy to do in practically any home. You just need to find a window that is by a blank wall, and you pretty much have a photographic studio all ready for you!

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5. Explore

When you shoot indoors you really have to explore the space you’re working with. The best spot to shoot may be the last place you’d think of! While the living room often has the best light, the kitchen is frequently a solid option. Then the front foyer, hallways, and bedrooms may work well too.

If you’re shooting in a client’s home, begin by checking out every room. Take your time, and give each place serious consideration. Look at the windows in each room, and open the blinds to assess the light. (If it’s not too chilly out, you might even be able to open a door). If there’s good light, look around and see if you could make the room work. It doesn’t take much, just a simple wall is enough!

A Couple Last Words

Sneak Outside

You are probably shooting indoors because the weather isn’t great outside. But that doesn’t mean you still can’t hop out there for a few minutes! This will be best done at the end of the session, especially if it’s raining. You’ll be able to run outside, take some fun shots, and then as soon as everyone is getting chilly or soggy, head back in. Backyards are great places to shoot, and you’ll get more variety in locations and light to round out your session!

Non-Home Locations

Sometimes you aren’t shooting in the home, but rather another indoor location. The same principles apply. Scout carefully, look for great light, and watch your backgrounds!

Flash

We personally prefer working around natural light to pulling out our flashes. We almost never find ourselves in situations where we have to use flash for a portrait session. Natural light is not only flattering and abundant, but it’s also simple. We like our focus to be entirely on the people in front of us, and don’t want to have to be worrying about flashes firing, or spending lots of tim
e setting things up.

Now, on the rare occasions where we have had to use flash, we bounced it to still keep it flattering and simple. (If you want to learn more about bouncing flash, check out this video!).


Learning to find the light indoors opens up a whole new realm of possibilities for great portraits. With just a few key elements, and a bit of creativity, you can create gorgeous portraits no matter where you are!

Do you shoot portraits indoors? Have any tips to share? Let us know in the comments below!

Lauren Lim

Hey friend, I’m Lauren! I’m a photographer and head ninja here at Photography Concentrate. I’m downright obsessed with photography, and love sharing it with super cool folks like yourself. When I’m not shooting, or writing, you can find me cooking (and eating!), traveling, and hanging out with wonderful people.

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Comments

22 Comments // Leave a comment

  1. Great article! Love that you used example images too. Shooting families doing something is so fun. It's sometimes hard to get the family to think it will turn out well though. Don't you think?

  2. Love this article – I find window light so gentle it really lets the soul shine through! Can I seek some clarification – is there a difference between window light with the windows open and window light with them closed? You mention to close the windows if wanting to make use of overhead lights, or did you mean the blinds/curtains? Thanks :)

  3. Very Good & Effective Article… Thank You Lauren.

  4. *@Resa:* Good question! I can definitely see how some families would be hesitant, and not think that doing activities would make for good photos. I think the key is to show them examples so they can see for themselves!

    If you haven't had the opportunity to do something like that yet, grab a friend's family and go try it out. Then you'll be able to put it in your portfolio, and it will be easier for future clients to understand!

    *@Rachel:* I love how you described window light! "Let's the soul shine through", beautiful. :) Thanks for the question, I did mean closing the blinds. I should have been clearer! :)

    *@Anowar:* So glad you enjoyed it!

  5. Great article…as usual!
    Recently I've been changing my style a bit especially when it comes to newborn photography. No more "fake-y" backgrounds, or babies in baskets and bowls. I want to shoot the family in their real lives. That's why I was so thrilled when my last appt invited me right up to their master bedroom to do the whole shoot there!

  6. Great post. I love sneaking into peoples lives for a day and everyone is most relaxed at home!

  7. Great article. I have done a self portrait in my home using available light against a white wall (as background) and it worked fine.

  8. Awesome tips. Thank you!!!

  9. this was a great article thank you! I am just starting out and have been photgraphing my two little ones lately. I love the natural light and the beautiful effect it has but I am having a hard time because my boys are 2 1/2 & 12 months and they always end up blurry-any tips for this? I offered to do a maternity shoot for a friend and she has a busy two year old and I really want to use the natural light in their home but am concerned how I will be able to do this!

  10. Nice tips.

  11. nicee, even i pull down all lights to dark and use one light to light dramatic low-key cuz my space given has little to none natural light

  12. Love reading your tips and articles.. thank you!

  13. thanks for the tips, nice and will help me :D

  14. I agree that it is really important to have a good backdrop. That can make all the difference. Usually plain backdrops look the classiest, but it really depends on the subject of the photo. It also depends on the type of photos you are taking.

  15. Hi there

    Good article and very informative site.

    Few questions if I may. You say about bouncing flash but what if the walls are a different colour than white, lets say yellow or green, it will cause colour cast right? So could you put a reflector or white board to where you would bounce off?

    • Hey David,

      If you’re shooting in a place where your flash can over power the ambient light (so that your flash is essentially the only source of light in the photo), and the walls that you’re bouncing the flash off of are relatively neutral in color, then your camera’s auto white balance function can usually compensate for different wall colors.

      The ceiling is where you usually want to aim your flash, and it’s usually white so that helps!

      We did have one instance where we were shooting a wedding and the ceiling was painted red, and it was a nightmare trying to work with bounced flash – we pretty much had to just use direct flash.

  16. thanks for the tips .. really made for me

  17. Very Good & Effective Article… Thank You Lauren..

  18. Bounces external flash: In portraits interior, and in the absence of light situations, the ideal is not to shoot the picture with flash led directly to the subject. It will produce a light and leave too powerful contrasts of light and greatly exaggerated shadows on the face and body of the person. If you have an external flash (and if not, grab one, here are some recommendations), most have rotary head, which allows you to divert the path of the light from the flash slightly, either up, either sideways. With this you get that light is projected first on a close to the subject, such as a wall or ceiling surface, and then rebound to his face. It Works great because the light, and bounced, reaches the very smooth and homogeneous subject. If further surface is a light color, you get better results yet.

  19. Very good article. I absolutely love this website.
    Keep it up!

  20. When is the best time to shoot indoors? Early mornings to all through the day? What times are the peak hours?

  21. Thank you for this. You are so clear and direct and cover all my questions. I will continue to read your articles!

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