How to Create Great Photos without Leaving Home

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Photos home easy 01

So you want to take pictures; or do you want to be a photographer? I deal with a strikingly similar question every time I swing a golf club; I want to be a golfer, but with life events and time constraints the reality is I merely play golf. Fortunately, making a great photo doesn’t consume the amount of time 18 holes does and since you’re here reading this, it’s safe to say you want to be a photographer.

WHAT TO PHOTOGRAPH?

Portraits, landscapes, sports, oh my! As a new photographer it is incredibly tempting to photograph everything, and that’s a good thing as it will help you understand where your true passion lies. However, I am a firm believer that early success leads to more success.

Let me say that again – early success leads to more success.

As a new photographer there is no better feeling than capturing a truly excellent photo; and if you’re anything like me, time is very limited. Luckily with a simple understanding of light, your home is a great place to create stunning photos.

All of the photos in this article were shot in my home. I do not have a home studio, and as I mentioned earlier, I also have little spare time; but that’s ok because you don’t need either to make great photos. The photos of the tulip and baseball were shot with a cheap piece of white poster board and available light from a window.

USING WINDOW LIGHT

While there are no “essentials” to creating great photos with available light from a window, I always use a tripod and would highly recommend one. However, if you do not have a tripod, you’ll need to raise the ISO to increase your shutter speed if you plan to hand-hold your camera. A generic rule of thumb is you’ll need a shutter speed of 1 divided by the focal length of your lens. For example, I used a 100mm lens for the tulip, and shot it at f/16 and an 8 second exposure. If I did not have a tripod, I would have had to increase the ISO (and realistically open the aperture as well) until I had a shutter speed of 1/100 (because I was using a 100mm lens) to keep the image sharp; but since I was making use of a tripod, an 8 second exposure was no problem.

There are endless opportunities for photography with available window light. Again, you could certainly hold your camera if you raised the ISO, but I would suggest the following as rough guidelines for photographing next to a window:

Photos home easy 02

  • Use a tripod, or raise your ISO until the shutter speed is 1 / the focal length of your lens
  • If using a tripod, set your ISO as low as possible
  • Set your camera to manual mode and the aperture to around f/11, then adjust the exposure via shutter speed from there

For a clean seamless background, such as the baseball photo here, grab a cheap piece or poster board from the school or office supply aisle at your favourite box store.

What do you do once you’re bored shooting next to the window, or want to learn something more? Stay at home of course!

WHAT’S NEXT? LEARN ABOUT LIGHT

There’s plenty of room to grow with your photography in the house. After all, what’s the underlying foundation of photography? Light! Even if you don’t have a flash you can still learn about lighting at home. Don’t have an off camera flash? No problem, I bet you have a flashlight! I created the photo of the kiwi fruit in a bathroom with the lights off and a flashlight lighting the fruit from behind.

Photos home easy 03

I would take a photo, look at it on the camera’s LCD, and then adjust the angle of light from there. So what if I spent an abnormal amount of time in a dark bathroom by myself, and got strange looks from my wife. I learned a lot about how the position of the light effects the look of the photo, and made a cool photo!

Bottom line, you don’t need a flash to learn lighting and take a great photo, all you need is a dark room (very dark, as in no light at all) and a flashlight.

Photos home easy 04

USING FLASH

So what about flash? I think using flash in photos is the key to creating photos that stand out from the rest. If you have a speedlite or other hot shoe flash, the best thing you can do to take your photography to the next level is learn to use it. After that, the next best thing you can do is take it off the camera when you use it. The photo of the little yellow guy smiling and the red silhouette of the golfer were both shot using off camera flash, and aside from a few tweaks in post processing, they look very close to what was produced in the camera with help from the flash. Once you understand about positioning and light fall off, you’ll be able to manipulate the light in such a way that creates great photos right in the camera.

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The point being here, and something you’ll learn either in due time, or right now as I tell you, all great photos have one thing in common: great light. Whether you use light from a window, a flash, or light from something as simple as a flashlight – there are numerous ways you can get great light right in the comfort of your own home.

To recap, here’s what I used in the photos:

  • Flower and baseball- window light, white poster board, and a tripod
  • Kiwi fruit- tripod and a flashlight
  • Golfer – single off camera speedlite with a red gel fired into a seamless paper
  • Little yellow smiling guy – white seamless paper, and a single off camera flash handheld above and to the left of the camera

Once you create one photo with great light at home, I guarantee you will be hooked! Best of luck to you, now go shoot!

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Brian Barthel is a photographer who has traveled world and is now based in Illinois. Having shot commercially for local small businesses, his true passion lies with portraiture. Brian is completely self taught; and while he now shoots totally digital, he has challenged himself with learning all photographic mediums to include traditional 35mm, and medium format. You can see his work in his website, and Facebook page.

  • right_writes

    “While there are no “essentials” to creating great photos with available light from a widow, I always use a tripod and would highly recommend one.”

    Spiders scare me, I’m not sure about their light emitting properties either…

    Nice pictures though…

  • Spiders? you lost me

  • MJ

    The statement right_writes is commenting on has the word WIDOW instead of WINDOW. So the reference to spiders is likely referring to the Black WIDOW spider. To me, a rather clever way to point out the typo of the word WINDOW.

  • thanks but straight forward works better in my opinion. I missed it in the original edit and in his comment – I will fix it now, thank you

  • Guest

    A silly joke…

    The author referred to “windows” in the title and “widows” in the text….

    …Never mind!

  • right_writes

    A joke…

    The author referred to “windows” in the title and “widows” in the text….

    …Never mind!

  • John Thomas

    Thanks Brian. Great article. Keep up the good work!

  • Thank you for the kind words John.

  • raghavendra

    There are several wonders missed in home. Starting from the abstracts, garden and toys.

    http://raghavendra-mobilephotography.blogspot.in/2012/05/wonders-missed-in-home.html

  • You’re right, there are plenty more opportunities around the house than what was mentioned in this article; and with great light and proper technique the possibilities are nearly endless.

  • Jane

    Really finding these articles helpful and inspiring. I am a beginner and a little confused by the term “seamless paper”? Jane

  • I’m glad you like the articles Jane. As a beginner, one of the best things you can do is consume information, so you’re already on the right track! As far as “seamless paper”, it is simply a continuous piece of paper that begins as the background and extends all the way to the foreground and usually serves as the “back and bottom” of the photo. You may have seen it before in a local camera shop, it usually comes in rather large roles and there is an assortment of available colors. In the picture of the baseball above, instead of buying a large roll of paper I used a cheap (less than a dollar) piece of poster board.

  • Mike

    Seamless paper; if you work in an office with a printer that prints off a paper roll rather than reams of A4 or A3 paper then you could ask for the end of the roll that is not printable. I have a roll that is about 1m wide. Alternatively a sheet of flip chart paper can do the job, even better if you can get a sheet with the ‘post-it adhesive on the top edge.

  • Geoffn54

    As you suggest Brian, limitation is a great way to stimulate creativity. ‘What’s interesting in the street in front of my house?’ for instance, a place that you’ve probably experienced thousands of times without really paying attention. It could be a broken drain cover, or paint peeling off a damaged wall, or whatever.
    Thanks for the article.

  • ColininOz

    With the wonders of internet shopping I purchased, from Hong Kong, for about A$30 delivered a collapsible light tent and three or four coloured backdrops for it. Using a black backdrop and black thread to suspend objects, or a small box under the black cloth to put them on, I can then edit the background easily and remove unwanted distractions . I use el cheapo automotive work lights on stands – the light tent acts as a diffuser – and a torch. White balance I leave on auto which usually does a fair job.

    http://flic.kr/p/j7h4cL

    http://flic.kr/p/k6HhGP

  • This is a wonderful example of an excellent photo right from your own home Colin! Very resourceful, and prime example that it isn’t necessary to spend a fortune. Keep up the great work!

  • You have an excellent point Geoff; sometimes the most creative moments are when we work with things we see day in and day out.

  • reynoldVT

    This article inspire me. I have more time inside my house rather than outside. I can start from there. Thank you for the sharing.

  • I’m glad you enjoyed the article! As I touched on, there are countless opportunities right in our own home; and once you learn to control the light you’ll really be on a roll. Best of luck to you!

  • Michael Cornish

    Nice

  • Dan Jay

    Yes, no need travel;
    as an example, I’ve captured these around my home;
    Check them out.

    https://picasaweb.google.com/109641244039030085054/NatureShotsAroundHome?authuser=0&feat=directlink

  • Dan Jay

    great article

  • JVodicka Photography

    Great article, I tried this out the other day. Please check out the photos on my facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/jvodickaphotography!

  • Fiona Smallwood

    Great inspiration!! Thanks so much 🙂

  • Wil Myers

    nothing spectacular here

  • Yep; this is what I did last week:
    http://acorner.net/blog/2015/2/summary-of-my-yellow-week

    Didn’t go anywhere, didn’t buy anything…
    You can click the links if you want to see the individual posts….

  • Thaís Marin

    love it!

  • Islas

    Great ideas. Thanks for share!

  • Cathy Wagner

    The article fails to mention that you must account for the crop factor of your sensor when shooting handheld. With a 100mm lens, as above, if your sensor’s crop factor is 1.6, the shutter speed should be 1/160 not 1/100

  • cdloff

    I *love* this article! No need for exotic locales when you can spend some time in a dark kitchen (or where ever). I’m inspired!

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