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Using Natural Light to Take Amazing DIY Portraits

How many times have you tried to take a picture at home of your kids, pets, or family, and they just seem to fall a bit flat? You might have uttered the words, "Maybe if I had a better camera..."? Whether you are taking pictures with your cell phone, point and shoot, or digital camera you CAN get great portraits! Many people have asked me over the years how they can achieve better portraits, specifically of their children at or around the house. While many of us are home due to the coronavirus and professional portraits aren't currently an option, I thought this would be a great time to compile some tips and tricks to help better capture your children using the natural light in your homes. I used my daughter Sofia as my model to photograph and help demonstrate. I prefer my portraits to be more on the dramatic side and have shadows but these techniques can be tweaked to be more open and airy. Before I get started, I want everyone to remember an important thing, have FUN with it! If your kids aren't sitting perfectly still, smiling perfectly, or following directions, don't stress, keep shooting. Sometimes those are the images that really capture their personality!!

Step 1

Lighting, lighting, lighting! Finding good light is definitely my most important step in the process. When taking portraits inside of the home, I usually look for doors or windows to use as the light source. For softer portraits you want to make sure that their isn't harsh direct sunlight pouring through. By going to the side of the house that is opposite of the sun you will find much better light quality. 

Location where the image was taken.
Location where the image was taken.
Dramatic lighting resulting from the directional light that the door window was providing.
Dramatic lighting resulting from the directional light that the door window was providing.

Step 2

Once you have found your spot with the best lighting, look around and move any objects that might be distracting in your images. I prefer plain walls whenever possible. Less is usually more! At this point it's a good time to take a step back, think about your composition and where you are going to position your subject. 

Tip: Place your subject in a clean spot in the composition (think framing). You can be super creative with this!

Sofia is placed in front of a plain wall with no distractions in this image.
Sofia is placed in front of a plain wall with no distractions in this image.

Step 3

Positioning your child is going to be your next step. This will totally depend on your preference. Some may want a nice bright and airy portrait while others will want some shadows and drama. Positioning them at about a 45 degree angle to the light source is usually a good starting point. From here you can get more shadows as you turn them away or less shadows as you turn them more into the light. Again, this is all about preference but you can play around with it until you have the desired effect. 

Tip: Use a white foam board as a reflector to fill in shadows on the opposite side of the light source. It can also be placed on the lap to reduce shadows under the neck. If you don't have a piece of white foam board anything that is white will work such as a bed sheet, white wall, printer paper etc.

The white foam board reflector is placed on the chair directing light back into the shadow side of her head gently filling in shadows.
White foam board gently reflecting light into the shadow side of face.

Step 4

The last step in the process is putting the final touches on your images. There are so many free editing apps for phones now a days! These apps can help you brighten, darken, adjust color, add filters etc, to your images. Here is a quick list of a few to choose from:

Advanced Tips:

Once you have got this all down and your images are starting to look how you have envisioned, it's time to start getting creative! Look around for objects that you can shoot through to add more depth. Move the camera around to find different angles. My go to is finding objects that I can use to make a reflection in the image. The possibilities are endless!!!

Taking amazing portraits requires lots of practice and trial and error. If you want to leave it to the professionals, we are still here to book your session! We are so lucky to be in this digital age where we have the luxury of taking as many images as we want (I can't imagine how many rolls of film I would have gone through by now!). So keep shooting and practicing and you will be amazed at your results! Please reach out with any questions!


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