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15 Tips for Documenting Home Life

Tips for documenting home life through photography

Documenting home life and capturing family moments is what inspired many of us to pick up a camera. But upon picking up a camera, we discovered just how challenging it is to capture those moments.

These 15 tips are ones that I’ve used over the years to capture my family moments. They will help you capture your moments more creatively, overcome lighting challenges, and use simpler camera settings.

The best part is, these tips work whether you’re using a DSLR or just your phone to take pictures.

15 Tips for Documenting Home Life
Learn to spot moments before they happen, what angles make your photos look best, and how to freeze action in dim indoor light.
ISO 6400 f3.8 1/200 sec

Moments

It’s important to capture a good moment because the moment overshadows everything else in your photo. Surprisingly, people will often overlook bad lighting and sloppy composition in your photo simply because you captured a powerful moment.  

The question is, how do you capture a moment well?

Remember that these tips apply to every photo you take, even if you’re using your phone.

1. Distinguish between two major types of moments

There are two types of moments; posed and candid.

With posed moments, you are in control of the details. You decide exactly what or who is in your photo, how they’re positioned, and how everything is interacting together.

When it comes to documenting home life, most of us prefer candid moments. Candid moments are spontaneous events that just happen naturally. By definition, you can’t force these moments to happen, you just see a great moment that happens spontaneously and you want to capture it. Of course, you can easily ruin the natural moments by stepping in and interrupting them.

But candid moments have a special problem, you don’t see them coming until it’s too late!

documenting home life posed moment
A classic example of a posed moment. See the tips below for the use of window light. ISO 1000 f/3.5 1/500 sec

2. Learn to see the future

You’ll be able to capture better moments when you develop the technical skill of seeing the future. Don’t worry, it’s not as impossible as you think.

The key to seeing the future is spotting patterns. When you see a pattern repeating itself, you can reliably predict what is going to come next. Look for patterns as you document home life, and you’ll be ready to capture the moment before it happens.

Documenting home life candid moment
My son spends a few minutes every day deeply engaged in picture books. As long as I don’t let him see the camera, I can sneak a few photos. I used his feet and the book as a frame around his face. This picture was backlit using a window. ISO 1600 f/4.7 1/400 sec

3. Take your camera and go looking for moments

You know that when things go strangely quiet, something interesting is happening. So pick up your camera and go see what your kids are up to. If you don’t take your camera with you, by the time you go find it, the moment will have passed. It will be too late. When the house is quiet, pick up your camera, then go looking.

Candid moments
I discovered him asleep, and it was the perfect time to photograph his curls before his first hair cut. ISO 1600 f/2.0 1/10 sec

4. Include action and emotion

One key to capturing better moments while documenting home life is to make sure that they include action or emotion. Again, if everything else goes wrong, the action or emotional element will make your photo stronger.

capturing action
Both the kite and the girl are in action. ISO 200 f/2.8 1/500 sec

Composition

As you improve your skill of capturing moments, you can begin to compose better photos as well.

Start with angles. They are one of the best compositional tools because they completely change the way your photo looks and feels.

5. Bug’s eye view

This angle is wildly dramatic. Get really low, look straight up and see things tower above you. When you take all your pictures from the same angle, they are boring to look at. So make 1 out of 10 a bug’s eye view.

Bug's eye view photo
Taken with an old iPhone. ISO 320 f/2.8 1/20 sec

6. Low angle

Low angles take your photos to a new level by adding drama to your photo. Use it when photographing action moments like the child jumping across beds in the photo above.

low angle photo
Taken during a wind storm. ISO 2000 f/2.8 1/200 sec

7. Face-to-face

This angle puts you eye to eye with your subject and makes your photo more captivating. This angle works especially well when combined with emotional moments.  

15 Tips for Documenting Home Life

8. High angle

High angles are great for capturing the cuteness of little kids. Partly because a higher angle can make people look a little smaller. It’s a friendly angle.

high angle photo
ISO 250 f2.8 1/160 sec

9. Bird’s eye view

Our last angle is the bird’s eye view. You get right up there and look straight down. You don’t have to be high up in the air for this angle, just higher than your subject.

bird's eye view photo angle
ISO 50 f2.4 1/20 Sec

Background 

10. Avoid cluttered backgrounds

A cluttered background will weaken your photo. There are two ways to deal with a cluttered background in your photo. The first is to change your angle slightly to avoid distracting elements. The second is to actually clean up your house. Of course, maybe a messy background is part of documenting home life!

15 Tips for Documenting Home Life

Use Frames

Look for objects that will frame your subject in an interesting way. Try shooting through cracks in doorways or window frames.

documenting home life framing
This photo is symmetrical, with the door in the background framing her. The funny expression on her face breaks the order of this photo. ISO 800 f/2.8 1/250 sec

Light

12. Use natural window light

Windows are a great source of natural light. You can use them for portraits, silhouettes, and just generally good lighting. Try to capture moments close to a window.

15 Tips for Documenting Home Life
It is window light that contributes to the contrast and depth of this photo.

13. Pay attention to the direction of light

Consider what direction the light is coming from. Front and sidelight are great for portraits, backlight is great for drama.

15 Tips for Documenting Home Life
Sidelight skims across his face and brings out the texture of the couch.
15 Tips for Documenting Home Life
The backlight in this photo creates a dramatic silhouette.

Think of all these elements as a stack. A couple of these elements will improve your photos, but the more of these elements you stack together, the stronger your photo will become. You don’t have to be an expert in light, moment, and composition. You only need to take small steps in each of these elements and the power is when you combine those small steps together.

Camera settings for dim light

One of the biggest problems you’ll run into indoors is dim lighting. Dim lighting can leave your photos looking dark or blurry from motion.

14. Open curtains and blinds

If it’s daytime, make sure to open curtains and blinds.

15. Help your camera see in the dark

  • Try increasing your ISO to 1600, 3200, or 6400.
  • Open your aperture all the way (look for a smaller number like f/1.8) to let in more light.
  • Consider purchasing a 35 mm or 50 mm prime lens with an aperture of f/1.8.
  • Zoom lenses usually have smaller apertures and don’t let in his much light.

These settings will help your camera let more light in and have a quicker shutter speed so that your photos are less likely to be blurry. 

15 Tips for Documenting Home Life
You’ll need to hold very steady with such a slow shutter speed. ISO 5000 f/2.0 1/15 sec

Checklist for documenting home life

Remember, you don’t have to become an expert in every single one of these areas. As you stack these elements together, a slight bit of improvement in each of these areas will give you much better photos.  A bit of emotion, from the right angle, with some interesting light, just might produce a work of art.

Settings to help with dim light

  • ISO 1600, 3200, 6400
  • Aperture f1.8

Moments

  • See moments before they happen by spotting patterns
  • Include emotion or action

Composition

  • Angles
  • Background
  • Frames

Light

  • Use windows
  • Direction of light

Feel free to add your ideas about documenting home life, or share your images in the comments below!

15 Tips for Documenting Home Life

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Mat Coker
Mat Coker

is a family photographer from Ontario, Canada. He teaches photography to parents and families, showing them how to document their life and adventures. You can get his free photography ebook, and learn more about taking creative photos.