No Studio? No Problem! Indoor Photography Your Clients Will Love

You book the clients. (They sound so lovely on the phone!). They sign the contract and pay the retainer. (Hooray, bookings!). You help them plan their wardrobe, and agree to photograph the family in their home. (Who doesn’t love gorgeous lifestyle photography?)

Then you show up on the shoot day, and – gasp!

The house is dark.
There is clutter everywhere.
And – do they even own a vacuum cleaner?!?

In-home photography sessions can be glorious exercises in natural light and gentle posing, or they can be nightmarish encounters with windowless rooms and messy spaces.

Here’s how to plan, prepare, and handle whatever chaos your clients throw your way!

Photo by Xanthe Photography

Be Specific. VERY Specific.

We photographers know what we’re looking for when we show up for a shoot, so it’s easy to assume our clients innately understand those needs, too. But the average Joe doesn’t have a clue about the makings of a great portrait, and a little hand-holding will go a long way.

Dig into the nitty-gritty of what you expect to find when you arrive – and don’t hesitate to be blunt!

Provide your clients with an In-Home Session Checklist with the following guidelines:

  • Clear floors and surfaces of clutter, and remove any items you don’t want appearing in photographs. 
  • Vacuum, dust, make beds, and generally clean your home. This will ensure that all surfaces gleam and sparkle in the photographs!
  • I will select rooms with plenty of natural light for our photography. Even if a space looks uninteresting to you, if it’s full of beautiful light, include it in your cleaning!
  • If you choose not to clean and prefer to receive professional retouching services on your photographs later, my retouching fee begins at $____ per _____.

Pro Tip: Not a master retoucher, but need some pro retouching fast? Consider! Or find a full list of preferred editors and retouchers HERE!

“Don’t be afraid to raise your ISO! We get so afraid of using high ISO; yet if a photo is exposed properly, high ISO delivers less grain than recovering an underexposed image in post-production!”

Photo by Xanthe Photography

Know Your Lighting Preferences

Most lifestyle photographers prefer natural light for their photographs. Even if you’re comfortable using flashes and strobes, you may find that your families are more relaxed without light stands and umbrellas hovering over them.

If you fall into the natural light photographer category, educate your clients about your lighting preferences. They may not realize that their windowless den with the cool leather chairs and fluorescent bulbs will be less-than-ideal for photographs!

Photo by Xanthe Photography

Pro Tip: Communicate clearly about your lighting needs, and inquire after the lighting conditions of the rooms your clients hope to use for their in-home session.

Pre-shoot walkthroughs are helpful, but may not always be practical. An excellent alternative (along with detailed conversation), is to ask your client to send over a few photos of their home. Even low-quality phone photos can help you visualize the space and prepare effectively!

Don’t Forget the Wardrobe!

What your clients wear can make or break a session. Written guidance is helpful, but most people respond better to visual cues. Pinterest is a great solution for making What To Wear idea boards – collections of photographs exemplifying excellent wardrobe choices! The photographs on your What To Wear board can be yours, or images you’ve pinned within the app. All that matters is that you’re showing your clients what looks good on camera.

Pro Tip: Don’t leave the pins’ default description in place. Edit each pin’s description with your own advice, so your clients know exactly why you pinned a particular outfit, and why you’re suggesting it for them!

“Even in a room with only the tiniest window, I can angle my clients toward the light and make photographs that work!”

Photo by Xanthe Photography

Let the Light Guide You

Maybe the only beautiful light in your client’s home is in the foyer in front of the open door. Great! Move their prettiest armchair into the entryway, and create a series of photographs in that space!

Don’t hesitate to micromanage in-home shoots. Unless you’re a family photojournalist, documenting real life as it happens, you’ll want to take control of this session the same way you would any other portrait shoot. Your clients’ home has become your studio, and it’s your job to make sure every image is beautiful.

If your clients suggest photographs in a space that won’t work well, communicate to them your concerns and offer alternatives. Maybe you’ll still make a few photographs in that space, but this way you’ll have properly set their expectations.

Blocking Clutter & Missing Messes

Some clients will swear they’ve cleaned their home, yet it will still be a minefield of toys, dishes, and laundry. Only the purest of family photojournalists (and the rarest of clients) will find this appealing in the final photographs, so find creative ways to eliminate any remaining chaos from your photographs.

“Make the most of what’s available! Use it to create mood – or, if it’s not working, simply make the decision to move on quickly and change rooms.”

Photo by Xanthe Photography

Mask with Layers – Not the Photoshop Kind!

Houseplants, home decorations, and even pieces of furniture can be included in the foreground of your photograph to hide clutter. Simply mask the mess with a layer of out-of-focus foreground, and a cluttered room becomes a work of art!

Shift Perspectives

That pile of laundry behind the sofa? You can’t see it if you kneel down to make the photograph! Consider your own angle when taking pictures. You may find that something as simple as a shift up or down, or side to side, will eliminate an unwanted item from your image.

Crop Close

Wide, environmental images are fabulous in beautiful spaces! But some homes aren’t conducive to broader angles. If the room you’re in is less-than-glamourous, consider cropping close to your subjects and highlighting only the best parts of the image – your clients themselves.

“Be wary of the affect of lamps and overhead lights on the white balance of an image. Either turn them off, or if you use the extra light they give be sure to pay attention to the white balance in post production!”

Photo by Xanthe Photography

Be Intentional

If you DO incorporate messy bits into a photograph, make sure they truly add to the story! A stray child’s toy may say a lot about the family you’re photographing. A stack of books on a side table may add more than it detracts. Or a couple of used coffee cups in the foreground may compliment your early-morning session perfectly!

Look for stories in every image you take. If there’s no story, it may not belong.

Reassure and Take Charge

Unless you’re one of the rare photographers whose clients are actual models, your families are likely a bit nervous about the portrait process! It’s your job to reassure them. Tell them they’re doing a great job, that their outfits look wonderful, and that their photographs are turning out beautifully.

The more you encourage, the more they’ll relax. Relaxed families are happy families, and happy families are the kind you want to photograph!


What are your tips for photographing in clients’ homes? Join the conversation below, then join ShootProof today!



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