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I hate nature. There. I said it. It’s like glitter—it seems like such a fun idea but no matter how careful you are, it gets all over you and 7 showers later you still find it in your hair. This is further complicated by the fact that I live in what is known around the planet as one of the most beautiful places in the world. As a photographer, it’s dreamy situation; I could photograph a family in a parking lot (and I have) and the surroundings are more beautiful than many conventional parks in the world. So most of the time I have to suck it up and schedule an immediate shower after to get the nature off me already.
But every once in a while I have a client request to do a shoot in their home. This is usually because I also live in a place where it’s about 30 degrees outside for a couple months of the year. Even if you don’t ever have snow on the ground where you’re at, beyond just avoiding nature there are lots of good reasons to photograph people in their homes.
People are comfortable in their homes, surrounded by their stuff. They know where the bathroom is and that if there is an emergency drink of water or fruit snack situation, it will be handled quickly and with ease. But photographing in a home, especially if you have never seen it before is usually a bit of a gamble. Lighting, space, simplifying………the fact that they neglected to mention they have a mannequin head collection in their living room……all can create hurdles. Here are some basics that will help you jump those mannequin head hurdles.
In every home, there’s natural light. You need one good window; it can be anywhere and face any direction. Ask to see the whole house, explaining that you aren’t allergic to the inevitable laundry piles that have likely been shoved into the rooms they weren’t planning on you seeing. An entire shoot can take place in a kid’s bedroom, or a kitchen, or even a bathroom (Probably. If it’s a fantastic bathroom. And if it’s that fantastic of a bathroom, by all means you’ll want to see it.)
Often I end up in the master bedroom where there is likely a large window and enough space to work with. Even if you shoot with flash, you’ll need some natural light as it builds the cozy and intimate atmosphere that home shoots are all about.
Even more than their home, people love their stuff. And in their home, you’re surrounded by it. Create beautiful interactions with children by being interested in their beloved treasures and asking questions: “What’s this?”, “How does it work?”, “What do you use it for?”, even if it’s obvious. Ask adults what their favorite thing about their home is.
It could be a fantastic piece of art that easily becomes a backdrop. Or that they always pile on the sofa on Friday nights and watch movies together, giving you a setting and vibe. Use their thoughts and make them into personalized ideas for pictures that will be much more meaningful than them running around a random park.
In an outdoor setting, a photographer is often having to create moments or push for situations. By photographing someone in their home, they are already more comfortable than they would have been anywhere else. Use this to your advantage by becoming a spectator and seeing what naturally happens. Because you are the guest in this situation, instead of looking to you for direction, they are much more likely to do things they do normally, giving you an amazing opportunity to document everyday life beautifully.
Because you are likely working with tighter spaces and less options for variety, you’ll have to get creative. The trend of photojournalism in portrait photography lends itself well here. What would they normally be doing if you weren’t there? Ask and work with it. Bake cookies, read books, have a pillow fight. This is what’s going to make your images meaningful portraits and not just snapshots they could have taken themselves.
Much like portrait photography in general, planning shots beforehand is often nothing more than a lesson in frustration. Even if you know who you are photographing very well, you have no idea what direction the pictures will take. Walk in with a plan and you’ll end up on a dirt road with no map and no expectation of having to rough it back. The image below is my son. He is high-strung, full of obnoxious expressive energy, likes things a certain way, and is just like me.
This shot came from an attempt at getting a sweet and traditional portrait in honor of his 3rd birthday. But he wanted to color and ignore me. So we argued about the finer points of photography, and how quick this would be if he would just work with me already, and how people pay me good money for this and he has no idea how lucky he is that I am creating this documentation of his childhood for him to see later. Or maybe he just screamed no at me and went back to coloring. It’s hard to remember the exact conversation, but the point is: I got this shot. Which I love. And sums up my son at that time in his life better than any perfectly constructed and planned image could have.
Just because you aren’t at a beautiful and serene park-like setting, doesn’t mean it isn’t worth changing it up and taking everyone out to the yard for some fresh air. You need a few feet—that’s it. You don’t need snowcapped mountains in the background, you don’t need a gorgeous sunset, you don’t need perfect puffy clouds in a perfectly blue sky (though those are really nice if they are available). And 30 degrees or not, people are usually willing to be outside for a shot or two.
Even if they end up with nature all over them.
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