Stylized photo shoots for my little ones are my absolute favorite. I get to blend my love of creating props and styling with photography. That’s a win win in my book. However, I have a few things working against me. For one, renting a studio space in our current city is painfully expensive. Two, the space I do have (my family room) is small. Lastly, our house is poorly wired and using AlienBees (toasters, space heaters, etc.) on that side of the house can trip the circuit breaker.
Thankfully all these “negatives” have made me better at understanding natural light indoors. This means any of you can create a studio styled shoot at home WITHOUT spending a fortune on equipment. Here are 10 tips for studio style shots at home.
1. Find the light.
We have two large windows facing south. The absolute best light coming through our windows is usually mid morning. I diffuse the light coming through these windows with the paper shades that came with our house, but sheer white curtains would work well.
I shoot in front of the large sliding glass window and also let the light flood in from the window to the right. Avoid using any overhead lighting or lamps. You can see the reflection of one of our windows in my daughters sunglasses below.
2. Use what you have.
You don’t have to spend a fortune on fancy flooring or backdrops. I used a couple yards of fabric hanging from my backdrop support system. You can see that it’s not very wide and the SOOC shot is full distractions. A little bit of cloning and cropping made this photo 100 times better.
I also want to point out that you can see me in her reflection. No extra lights. Just the window. Use what you have.
3. Magic numbers.
I have what I like to call my “magic numbers”. Your magic numbers may not be the same as mine, but thankfully you can adjust your settings. If the light is perfect in our family room, I’ll start at SS 1/200, f/2.8, and ISO 800. I’ll bump my ISO to 1600 if it’s cloudy out, but I usually stay between 800 & 1250. I very rarely take my shutter speed below 1/160 when working with my kids at large apertures.
4. White balance, white balance, white balance.
Did I mention white balance? It’s important. I prefer using the Kelvin method because it makes the most sense to me. I tend to stay around 5500K indoors and adjust it as needed depending on the colors I’m shooting. Custom white balance is also a good option if your camera doesn’t have the Kelvins.
5. Keep it short and let them play
Some of my favorite studio shots are not posed. I let them play and explore. I make the most of my fifteen minutes. My children have “photographer’s child syndrome”, so I keep my expectations low and work as fast as possible. I try to get their attention by being as silly as possible so they’ll smile for me first. Once I get one or two “posed” shots, I let them play and usually end up getting genuine smiles in the process.
6. Get down to their eye level.
I always get down to eye level with my kids unless I’m trying to capture a specific perspective. This means squatting or sitting on the floor with my toddler and often laying on my stomach with my baby boy. This also prevents me from casting shadows and blocking the window light. Two birds, one stone.
7. Keep it simple.
I love the look of styled shoots and tons of props, but sometimes its better to simplify things to keep the focus on your subject. This is one of the images I took for my son’s smash cake session. Notice the lack of props and neutral colors? I knew that these photos were going to get framed, so I wanted the focus to be on him and the cake. Nothing else. More proof that you don’t need a ton of props to achieve a polished studio session from home. Creativity is your greatest asset.
8. Think outside the box.
I like to mix up my simple sessions with my styled sessions. Get creative and think outside the box. The hot air ballon was made with a fabric covered exercise ball, three mini hockey sticks, tissue paper, fabric covered duct tape and our blanket basket. These were all things I had laying around the house. Props don’t need to cost a fortune to make an impact.
Kids can feel your emotions and feed off of them. Have fun. Cut loose. Pretend to eat imaginary cookies and sip pretend tea. Making funny noises and silly faces. Engage them. Giving them positive reenforcement with extra enthusiasm will help them feel more comfortable about having to sit still in a small area.
They really do want to make your happy and do a good job, but sometimes being put on the spot causes them to behave differently. Reward them for a job well done even if you didn’t get any keepers. The older ones will remember and be more willing to be your muse the next time you ask them to sit for you.
10. Practice makes (almost) perfect.
If your kids are napping or away at school, set up your makeshift home studio and use stuffed animals in place of your kids. Take note of the shadows and light. Fiddle with your settings to see how it affects your final image. Get comfortable. I did this all the time when I first started doing in home studio sessions and spending an hour here and there helped tremendously. You’ll never get better unless you practice and sometimes that means using a stationary object as your model.
I hope these tips help you capture those studio style images you crave without having to spend big bucks on gear you can’t bring yourself to invest in.