It can be tempting to think that you need lots of money, space, and equipment to shoot great portraits. But using just your camera and a reflector, you can find beautiful portrait light at home to shoot in.
Almost everyone will have at least one room in their home with natural light from a window that could make a great portrait. It’s just a case of figuring out where the best light in your home is. Sometimes this takes a little trial and error, but as long as you get a good grasp of the basics, you should be able to shoot some great portraits at home!
Open up your aperture
Shooting indoors often means less light than if you were shooting outside or with studio strobes. To get some more light into your camera, try opening up your aperture and setting it to the lowest number possible.
Opening your aperture up to let more light into your camera also has the effect of creating a shallow depth of field. A shallow depth of field has real advantages when you’re shooting at home – it can blur out the background and any unwanted clutter.
Alternatively, if you need to place your subject right next to a wall that isn’t as great a background as you hoped for (like above), try hanging a large sheet of paper behind them. The result would be like going to a studio with a paper backdrop. Or if you fancy something completely different, try creating a more creative backdrop!
Get your subject to turn their face towards the light to make it fall in a very flattering way that illuminates their features. If you turn their face slightly back towards you then you can create the classic “Rembrandt light” that fine art photographers love so much (just turn their face towards you enough to create a “triangle” of light on the side of their face away from the window).
By just changing the way your subject faces, you should be able to experiment with broad and short lighting with just a single window. If you have a patient subject, then a single window and a model can be a great way to learn about new kinds of lighting while finding lovely portrait light at home.
Shoot in the bathroom
I’m not even messing about. Bathrooms often have incredible light because of all the white, reflective surfaces. Even a bathroom with a small window can have lots of light bouncing about just waiting for you to photograph it.
If you want to fill in some shadows, or even add a bit more directional light, you can experiment with using a reflector. You can use the silver side to add a bright, directional light in a room like this by bouncing light into the brighter side of the face. Alternatively, you could use the white side of a reflector to just gently lift any shadows that you get, to make the light more even.
Don’t be afraid to push up your ISO either if you want to capture a fast-moving or unpredictable subject like a pet. Most modern digital cameras can now go quite high with the ISO without seeing any problems in the images.
I shot the images above at ISO 1600, with an extremely fast shutter speed as my cat zipped around the house from dark to light spots. I had the camera set to Aperture Priority mode, so the camera chose its shutter speeds. Aperture Priority mode is a great choice for shooting portraits indoors because it lets you make creative choices about aperture and depth of field without having to worry about shutter speed.
Experiment with the time of day
As the sun moves, the light will change in different parts of your house. Make it your mission to observe and try out the light as it changes throughout the day if you want to find the good spots for beautiful portrait light at home.
I took both of the above shots in the same room, sitting in almost exactly the same place. The difference was the time of day. The shot on the right with the hard light was taken in the bright morning light. In comparison, I took the image on the left in the afternoon when the sun had stopped shining directly into the room.
Patches of light and shadow can make for really interesting photographs as you let them play across the face or body of your subject. Be sure to experiment with how they create different effects both in the photographs themselves and when you post-process them afterward (increasing the contrast can work really well for light like this).
Use what you have
When I first moved into my home with its large room designated as my studio, I shot almost exclusively with strobes. I would shut out all of the natural light so that I could concentrate on just using my studio lights. I hadn’t even considered that I might have beautiful portrait light at home.
One day, though, I just wanted to grab a quick self-portrait. So I opened the curtains and photographed myself in the morning light.
On inspecting the files later, I discovered that this light was unexpectedly beautiful. Now I shoot regularly sat face-on to this big window in my studio with no additional lighting or reflectors because I discovered it was simply wonderful light.
Learn from my mistake – test out every window in your house for portraits, at different times of the day.
When you move into a new home, make it one of the first things that you do. Don’t wait several years to realize that you already have wonderful natural portrait light at home!
I’d love to see your portraits using the natural light in your home. Please share them with us in the comments section!